Review: The Town
Jon Hamm plays FBI agent Frawley, who slowly becomes convinced that Claire (Rebecca Hall) knows more than she is letting on.
If you were sitting on the fence as to whether or not you should see the The Town this weekend this review ought to help you decide.
Ben Affleck plays a reluctant robber in this well-crafted heist film (he also directs and co-wrote the screenplay based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves). A film with fine performances, firepower, inventive getaways and dramatic tension, resulting in a heist movie that feels fresh, even when it touches the same notes as some of its predecessors.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively
Rating: Four and a half stars out of five
If you had a nickel for every movie that featured criminals engaged in one last big score, you could probably afford to mount a Broadway musical production of Avatar. (James Cameron, if you’re reading this — no need to thank me.) The Town adds a slight but important twist, however: The criminal doesn’t really want to do the job.
The reluctant robber is Ben Affleck, who also co-wrote the screenplay (based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves) and directed the film. This is Affleck’s first writing/directing gig since his well-received Gone Baby Gone in 2007, and the first time he has combined all three talents in one film. If he felt thinly spread, it doesn’t show.
The movie opens with a bang, as Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads a gang of four who attack a Boston bank with brutal efficiency. There are fascinating details right off the bat, as the robbers throw the employees’ collected cellphones into a fishbowl, and bleach the crime scene to kill any trace of DNA evidence.
Later in the film, Affleck’s character jokes, “I watch a lot of CSI. Miami, New York. And Bones.” But it’s clear that, as screenwriter, he’s done more than just study bank heists from other movies.
On the way out the door, there’s an unexpected wrinkle. They grab a hostage, Claire (Rebecca Hall), blindfolding her and letting her go a few blocks away. Fearful she may have seen or heard enough to help the police, Doug decides to shadow her and find out what she knows.
He arranges to bump into her at a laundromat, and she tells him about her recent trauma. “Sorry,” he says. Her response is one of the most ironic “It’s-not-your-faults” ever to hit the screen.
From this point, Doug’s double life is almost certain to cause him grief. His wooing of Claire quickly moves from an act of damage control to one of true affection. Meanwhile, there’s work to be done. Boston’s banks aren’t going to rob themselves, and Doug’s crime boss (a great supporting turn by Pete Postlethwaite) is getting impatient for the next hit.
Affleck’s eye for detail informs the entire film. Take this exchange between Doug and his hotheaded right-hand-man, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker). “I need your help,” Doug says. “I can’t tell you what it’s about, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re going to hurt some people.” Renner fires back: “Whose car we gonna take?”
Later, when an armoured-truck holdup goes wrong, Affleck delivers an extended car chase that’s actually three separate set pieces. The first ends in a shootout, but the bad guys manage to drive off again into chase No. 2, which concludes when they switch cars, only to start again when another cop notices them.
Add to all this the surreal effect of having the bank robbers dressed in rubber nun masks, making them appear like Catholic extras in a Planet of the Apes movie. It’s all very clever — or “smaht,” as the heavily accented Boston characters would say.
It’s all quite believable, too, thanks to the continuing flood of details that place us not only in Boston’s Charleston neighbourhood — the film calls it the bank-robber capital of America — but in the shoes of Doug and his blue-collar cronies. The only cop we get to know is Jon Hamm’s FBI agent Frawley, who slowly becomes convinced that Claire knows more than she is letting on.
Meanwhile, Doug visits his dad in prison (another fine supporting role, this time by Chris Cooper), ruminates about his long-lost mother and his budding romance with Claire, and decides it might be best to skip the town before it swallows him up. Cue the last big score, as Postlethwaite’s character orders him to lead a raid on Fenway Park after a three-game home stand. For its iconic nature, if not quite the take, Doug might as well be robbing Fort Knox.
The Town’s final act ramps up the firepower, the inventive getaways and the dramatic tension in lockstep, resulting in a heist movie that feels fresh, even when it touches the same notes as some of its predecessors. Maybe Fenway Park had an effect on Affleck, convincing him that, even as you swing for the fences, you need to cover all your bases.
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