Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Town: The Wrong Side of the Tracks

Ben Affleck already proved himself a capable and promising filmmaker with his debut Gone Baby Gone (2007) a gritty thriller about an abducted child in south Boston. Here he returns to the same location for another unforgiving foray into a neighborhood where crime seems to be the number one employment opportunity. The Town is a story set in Charlestown, a burg in Boston known for it's tradition of breeding bank robbers. Young and angry punks are exploited by the local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite) who runs a flower shop but is anything but interested in flowers. He runs a gang of well organized thieves with two loyal friends at the helm: Doug (Affleck) a conflicted criminal who walked away from a hockey career and the volatile and trigger happy James or "Jem" (Jeremy Renner). Both men have accepted their lives as criminals and seem despite being free men seem imprisoned by their obligation to their code and lawless life. A visit to Doug's father in prison (an excellent Chris Cooper) suggests their possible future.

While pulling a robbery at a local bank, Jem brutally wounds the assistant manager and they take hostage the main manager, a beautiful woman named Claire (Rebecca Hall) whom they set free after placing a blindfold on her. Doug's sense of guilt moves him into her life days after in a chance meeting at a laundry mat in which they have the kind of charmed meet cute you'd see in a romantic film. She's a warmhearted and generous woman (a volunteer at the nearby Boys and Girls Club) whose experiencing post traumatic stress from the robbery. They begin dating and once Jem discovers this, he's understandably furious that Doug is entering a relationship with the person who can give them up to the Feds. Jem's drug addled sister and Doug's part time girlfriend (Blake Lively) a girl tired of being used by her men, may also be a liability to them.

A hard nosed FBI agent (Jon Hamm) is convinced it's these men who pulled the robbery but lacks hard evidence since their system includes dumping bleach over every part of the bank they touch.

The Town is a well executed crime caper with strong performances and especially great cinematography by Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) and editing by Dylan Tichenor (another Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator) which aid in the solid action sequences that are of the quality of Michael Mann's films like Thief (1981) and Heat (1995). A third act heist at a baseball stadium reminded me of the robbery at a race track in Stanley's Kubrick's The Killing (1956).

I like the overall theme of men who are doomed to a life of crime based on their misfortune of growing up in a bad town with bad parents and essentially being put in the grasp of Postlethwaite's malevolent character, who operates like a pimp and the boys who do his bidding are his whores.

Affleck's performance is quiet and understated for the most part. Since he is also the director, I don't think he wanted his starring role to be showy. Renner is credible and solid as his brutal but loyal friend. Hall (who showcased her talent very well in films like Frost/Nixon (2008) and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)) is well cast as the woman Affleck falls for.

The story covers ground that has been seen before but Affleck knows what he's doing here and aside from a Hollywood ending that's way too neat and tidy, The Town has conviction and great tragic thematic material.

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