First let me get something off my chest. Ben Affleck, just like his superior actor friend Matt Damon, did not come up from the mean streets of Boston, Massachusetts. Watching The Town I think I twitched a little when I heard his character refer to the place I went to High School as where old crew bank robbers bought their big houses because, as I remember it, we were the ones that took the Drama State Festival championship with a set comprised of two benches and no school bus, driving around the state in a parade of dented minivans until we found out we could be disqualified for it.
Meanwhile the Oscar winning authors of Good Will Hunting did their thespian thing at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, a school that holds near-permanent seats atop the finalist round year after year with plays that can look like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reconstructions. Despite that, watch Gone Baby Gone and there’s no doubt that as a director, Affleck applies a wealth of wisdom on all things dirty water.
The Town retains that measure of credibility with a different end in mind. From the yuppie filled town houses to the pale, unshaven oxy-heads that feel right at home robbing a CVS, Affleck’s sophomore film treats the area with a lot more love. As the plot surrounds a cut-off haven for head busting townies who like to get drunk and crack federal bank safes, violence sprawls into the wealthier surrounding areas. Both have been filmed before but perhaps not as a unified picture of the city of Boston.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star crossed lovers project very little chemistry with each other. This is troublesome when the story hangs on their romance. White collar Claire (Rebecca Hall) neglects to move to a new apartment after masked men rob the bank she works for, bludgeon her manager close to death, briefly kidnap her and steal her driver’s license right before the FBI exclaims that their usual suspects live on the flipside of her square-mile neighborhood. Traumatized to the point of crying in public she will, before finishing her first load of laundry, allow herself to be picked up by a track suit wearing hooligan with entirely too many questions about the investigation and a talent for accidentally “guessing” details about her life that even the most dedicated Facebook creeper would not know.
This modernization of Robin Hood comes with a heavy share of implausibility, clearly, but high octane action mixed with a tapestry of local color make it the kind of trip to the movies that few will walk away from unsatisfied, whether taking a vacation from the sunnier side of the United States, or following exactly where the heists go down by the placement of Metro newspaper dispensers that weren’t even around when our writer-director-moviestars left us for greener salaries.
Each caper introduces a new set of costumes resembling Point Break’s presidents, with a speedy heart pumping one-last-score taking place in the bowels of Fenway Park. This might seem like it breaks the pattern of rob from the Harvard squares and give to the local hockey rink, but please understand that most of us living here are too poor to buy into the nosebleed seats after the 2004 World Series and too privileged to join the Dunkin Donuts charity rows.
Ok, so it’s not Heat but that was fifteen years ago and Affleck and Renner bring more to the table these days then Pacino and De Niro for reasons I can’t fathom. Gem (Jeremy Renner) is wound tight and subtly fidgets. He might throw a wrench into his adoptive brother’s personal and professional life at any moment and I doubt the actor playing him is bothered by the Cagney comparison, having left a life of straight-to-dvd to stuff his face with greasy food and pound both fists to the table in front of fourteen million movie-goers.
The script makes it difficult to buy Affleck’s character being the brains of the operation, particularly when the actor is finally losing himself in the roll of brain fried, droopy eyed recovering street thug. Revealing his chipped tooth for the first time on film doesn’t hurt to sell it, but why can’t the banks be robbed without this guy as he’s charging himself with multiple counts of loosery along the road to redemption?
If anyone’s a weak link its Rebecca Hall, who projects her fragility amongst the den of thieves extremely well but never seems to explain, physically or otherwise, her desires. She volunteers with hard luck kids, tends to overgrown gardens and even considers breeding with a member of the roughneck race but that’s what she does, not who she is. I can’t place blame on the actress alone, with lines like “My brother died on a day like this, so now on sunny days I always think of someone dying.”
Don’t let that dissuade you. The Town might not have a heart but you’ll feel its pulse in the murderous folk heroes of Charlestown, the place I was born and believe me, I don’t miss a chance to say that despite being moved at an early age to one of the “big houses of Winthrop” where tommygunners go to retire.
Andrew Kauz: With a stellar cast and a decent-but-unremarkable premise, The Town rises above the typical bank heist movie without soaring to the heights of the emotional robbery love story that it aspires to be. Its focus on its characters is the film’s greatest asset, but there comes a point when you realize that you just don’t care so much about the story. While the film’s conclusion is satisfying, the lead-up isn’t always engaging. Still, not bad, Affleck. Not bad at all. 69 – Okay
Geoff Henao: Just like the Boston accents that are so prevalent throughout, The Town is a rough and tough film that tries to huff and puff and blow your house down. However, it’s not something you’d hold your breath over. The film is a by-the-numbers story of a good guy gone bad but trying to go good that’s full of Boston imagery… didn’t Scorsese do this recently, but better? A valiant effort by Affleck, but it’s nothing we haven’t already seen before. 64 – Okay