Saturday, September 25, 2010

"The Town" (2010)

Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall
Written by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck

The Town (Extended Cut) [Blu-ray]
After "Gone Baby Gone," I had to admit I was very excited for Ben Affleck's next directorial effort: the heist epic "The Town."  Again set in Boston, Affleck this time tackles the subject of bank and armored car robbers.  Though the film doesn't ask the same kind of moral questions as "Gone Baby Gone," but it does ask us to sympathize with the bad guys.

Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a second-generation bank robber.  He works for "The Florist," (Pete Postlethwaite), who sets him and his team up with robbery jobs that are carefully planned and expertly executed.  At the outset of the film MacRay, along with his partners James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert Magloane (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) knock off a bank in Harvard Square.  When the assistant manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) manages to press the silent alarm, Couglin decides to take her hostage as leverage.  He takes her driver's license, and then they let her go.  But afterward, Coughlin decides she's a liability and must be dealt with, lest she talk to the FBI.

Doug, however, decides that he's the one that will deal with Claire.  He follows her to the laundromat, but when she breaks out into tears, he can't help but attempt to comfort her.  He asks her out, and soon enough the two are building a relationship.  Coughlin, of course, is furious when he finds out.  Coughlin has been growing increasingly impulsive and violent, which worries Doug.

Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on the team's trail.  Their careful planning begins to fall apart as Frawley digs deeper and deeper, finding a couple of flimsy alibis.  As Doug gets closer and closer to Claire, his commitment to the team begins to waver.  But with Frawley closing in on one side and The Florist and Coughlin jamming him up from the other side, Doug begins to feel trapped and wants out.  He knows he won't get it from Frawley, but what are his options as he's forced to take riskier and riskier jobs.

As a drama and a thriller, "The Town" functions quite well.  The characters are (mostly) well-drawn, but the performances are what really make them special.  Affleck does fine enough, letting his thick Boston accent out to play.  He gets the weariness of his character right, and has great chemistry with his co-stars.  Renner, however, is intense.  He caught my eye with his turn in "The Hurt Locker" as an adrenaline-junkie bomb squad officer.  Here, he's just barely in control of similar impulses.  He loves the thrill of pulling these jobs, the surge of power he gets from hurting people.

One of the real surprises is Blake Lively as Coughlin's sister, Krista.  She's skanked up, but gives a great performance in a supporting role.  Jon Hamm is also great as Frawley, no-nonsense and frustrated at always being just one step behind Doug's team.  He's got energy and charisma; I haven't seen "Mad Men," but I gather that he's quite popular on that one, as well and it's easy to see why.

The heist sequences are quite cool as well.  A high-speed chase through the claustrophobic one-way streets of Boston is lots of fun while the gang is dressed up in creepy nun masks.  The final job at "the Cathedral of Boston" is practically sacrilegious but tons of fun.  Affleck proved he can make a drama with "Gone Baby Gone," but here he proves he can stage an action sequence that's both cool and easy to follow.  Inexperienced directors can sometimes fold under the pressure of big, complicated action sequences, which usually involve lots more coordination and organization to pull off, but Affleck rocks it.

Filmed entirely on location, like "Gone Baby Gone," Affleck captures an authentic reality of the setting.  The locations in Charlestown, Cambridge, and others all have a very real and recognizable feel to them, unlike other movies that might only use helicopter establishing shots of Boston and then film the rest of the movie in Los Angeles or New York.  Or, like "Surrogates," they might film something in Lynn and call it Dorchester.  This kind of cheat you can get away with on people that don't know the area, but the locals will always notice it. 

Ben Affleck has another directorial win on his hands.  It might not have the dramatic heft of his previous film, but he makes up for it with finely-crafted tension.