Sunday 26 September 2010

Review: The Town

Year: 2010
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Aaron Stockard, Peter Craig, Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper

Synopsis is here

As an actor, Ben Affleck shouldn't star in movies beginning with the letter P (Paycheck, Pearl Harbour, Phantoms all terrible in their own special way). However as a director, he can take whatever he wants right now, as his second feature, The Town, is a solid crime drama with a rounded cast and well crafted set pieces.

The first thing I noticed about the film is it's sense of place, and how grounded everything feels. Affleck's confident direction manages to give us a strong grip of the setting and characters, from it's opening dialogue (detailing the notoriety of Charlestown, Boston), to it's no nonsense heist and chase set-pieces, the film's simply constructed scenes really show us how high the stakes are for those involved. One first glance you feels these characters have near to nothing, but it's that need to hold on to whatever they have that keeps the film interesting. Looks hide secrets, words have the right weight on them to feel loaded. Affleck's direction of the actors to convey these moments show that he clearly picked something up when he was on all those other film sets.

These performances are needed as they distracted me from the films story as unfortunately it is not the freshest thing on these years menu. It's one last job plot is a safe and rigid bet but it's also one that really doesn't say anything different. It's a safe rigid structure that isn't a bad thing but does little to sway me from other films that I own in my collection. A quick glance on the net before writing this had people uttering Heat in the same vicinity and while that's high praise indeed, quite simply that particular film has more to say. If there's a negative thing I have say about The Town, it's that until the final moments, it feels like it's on rails.

Unoriginal doesn't mean you cannot enjoy it, and The Town works by having a more than enough entertaining scenes. The opening heist has all the confusion and aggression of a bank robbery but also subtlety introduces us to certain aspects of the characters personalities. Two small (but well thought of) moments within that scene involve Affleck cutting from the action being seen in "real time" POV and switching to grainy black and white CCTV only allowing the quiet hiss of the recording keep us safe before jumping back into the visceral sequence taking place. Another scene features Jon Hamm's FBI Agent Frawley and Blake Lively's drugged out ex-girlfriend Krista playing out like a guy picking up a girl and ending up to be something else entirely. One of the strongest moments is a scene in which a moment of light conversation quickly ripples with tension due to the appearance of a tattoo. When elements like this play out, the film is really in it's element.

The ensemble cast is accurately chosen, and deliver the performances needed for a film like this. Veteran's such as Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite give small but pivotal moments, while Jon Hamm and Blake Lively give watchable and fresh introductory performances for those who don't watch Mad Men or Gossip Girl respectively. Jeremy Renner once again shows his talents as the live wire Jem. This is a performance that in the wrong hands would have been an attention seeking display of OTT cheese but here, he places the right amount of damper on the trigger happy character to make sure that the danger is shown and not the hammy. Rebecca Hall has the right amount of vulnerability and honestly to care for her, while Affleck in the lead as the reluctant thief struggles slightly with some of the extended monologues, but gives an impressive presence which is not only imposing but also has ability to pull off a sense of calm.

The Town has a lot going for it. It's action gives a rush that was missing from one or two of the summer movies, the character moments work well the pace of the film build well and I was never bored. The film's ending however leaves me conflicted. as I'm not sure as if it's a cop out or not. It doesn't really ring true, this may be however due to the amount of sympathy related to our lead character. Affleck almost overreaches here trying to get me to feel for something that I don't think it's lead deserves.On another day I may have found it a complex conclusion as it strays slightly from what I expected. However looking back the final moments I found myself just a a little bit frustrated. Don't let that or it's relatively safe story sway you though, Affleck is a competent director and The Town is a well executed, adult, crime drama worth your notes for a ticket.