On the whole, “The Town” works effectively as a crime drama despite some weaknesses. Although the movie turns out to be less successful than it wants to be, it works in most parts because the characters and their world are interesting enough to hold our attention. Actually, they are interesting enough to make the action sequences more like obligatory chapters – or showy wrapping papers for a good standard product of its genre. I do not think drama and action are meshed well in the film, but the movie is engaging when it focuses on its characters.
Ben Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a professional criminal living in blue-collar Boston neighborhood named Charlestown, which, according to the movie, “has produced more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere in the world”(I heard that this area has been much more gentrified now than before). The criminal trades are frequently handed over from fathers to sons, and Doug is no exception; Doug’s father, now incarcerated in the state prison, was a bank robber, and Doug also robs banks or attacks armored trucks with his accomplices. With his meticulous plan, they quickly finish their business and run away immediately without leaving their traces.
In the opening sequence, an unexpected trouble happens during their efficient execution of bank robbery. The silent alarm is activated earlier than they predicted, and, on their hasty escape, they take a hostage – a young assistant manager named Claire(Rebecca Hall). Fortunately for her and them, there is no further trouble after that, and she is soon released without knowing anything substantial about her captors except one trivial thing(She was blindfolded). However, after knowing that she lives in their neighborhood, they have reasonable worry about her. So, for checking any possibility of danger to him and others, Doug approaches to her while hiding his identity.
While getting intimated with Claire, Doug confirms that she is not a dangerous witness to them, but the situation gets more complicated due to their growing relationship. Traumatized by her experience, Claire sees him as someone she can lean on. Having been tired of his criminal life, Doug sees her as someone with whom he wants to get out of his criminal world. However, if you are familiar with crime movies, you know that things will not go easily for them. On one side, there is an FBI agent Adam Frawley(John Hamm) who recently grasps on Doug’s crew and are determined to catch them on the spot. He also keeps in touch with Claire, so it is a matter of time before he discovers the relationship between Claire and Doug. On the other side, there are Doug’s volatile friend/accomplice Jem(Jeremy Renner) and their boss Fergie(late Pete Postlethwaite), who do not welcome Doug’s desire to quit from his profession. And new jobs for Doug’s crew are coming.
With the screenplay adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince of Thieves” by him and others, Affleck proves again that he is a competent director. Considering his previous work “Gone Baby Gone”, it is not so surprising that the movie has authentic presentation of Boston neighbourhood; he is familiar and comfortable with the setting he deals with. There are several action sequences in the film, and they are assuredly handled well with enough tension and urgency.
However, there is the lack of synergy between drama and action. The characters are compelling enough to carry a familiar plot alone, but, interrupted by actions, their story is developed in hurried pace as a result. Although I admit that the action sequences are exciting, I also find that they do not fit well with the realistic environment built on the screen; they would have looked more natural if they had been in a standard action movie. In addition, I seriously have some doubt about the proportion between the number of shootings and that of casualties in the movie.
None the less, the movie does not entirely fail with what it intends to do. Although the movie brings nothing new to its genre, Affleck deals with its melodramatic story in dry, calm approach, and that mostly works. While the movie could have shown more about it, Charlestown is still an interesting background in the film – it becomes its own character. The drama between characters is the film’s strongest point, and that is why the most effective scene in the film does not involve with shootings or car chases. It has three people who must not be together in one place, and the suspense is subtly increased below the screen while only one of them is aware of possible danger.
Affleck has the cast as good as he can get. He gives an adequate lead performance while maintaining a warm, laid-back chemistry with Rebecca Hall. Jon Hamm is as dashingly persuasive as Don Draper, and he has nice scenes with Blake Lively, who plays Jem’s sister Krista. Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper(he plays Doug’s father) make big impression in their brief appearances. Finally, there is Jeremy Renner who was recently Oscar-nominated for his volatile performance. Right after his breakthrough performance in “The Hurt Locker”, Renner plays another intense character addicted to what he is good at, and, thanks to Renner’s intensity, you instantly know his compulsive character is always looking for the chance to do something violent and dangerous. This is someone you don’t want to be near, but, unfortunately for Doug, Jem clings to him in the name of friendship.
The movie is overrated by some, and it is also unfairly underrated by South Korean critics when it was released in last month. Although I do not think the movie is one of best films in 2010 as some argues, I enjoyed the film and its several good aspects. The movie certainly does not reach to the level of Michael Mann’s “Heat”, but Affleck does a skillful job with his material. In spite of flawed mix between drama and action, it respects the characters at least and I liked that.
Footnote: I recently saw Director’s cut, 28 minutes longer than the theatrical version, and, while added 28 minutes does not make much difference, the movie is a little better than before. Thanks to extended or inserted scenes, the characters are given more space, and their developments are progressed in more leisured pace. But I also found the Director’s cut a little too long. In conclusion, I think you will not lose much if you decide to stick to the theatrical version.
I agree with most of what you say Seongyong. The dramatic scenes are very good, the action scenes are almost their equal but one never feels they quiet belong together in the very same movie. I also felt like the ending was somewhat of a rip-off of SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION but all in all, this is an impressive second directing effort by Affleck.
SC: Thanks for your kind comment. I’m waiting for your next FFC review.