BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
OCTOBER 18, 2010
“The Town” is one of the first films this year with actual Academy Award nominations written all over it. Not only with great performances from Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, and Jeremy Renner, but with Affleck at the helm as director, the movie screams Best Director nominee. “The Town” is simple yet thoroughly entertaining, not relying on gimmicks but instead taking the heist genre to a superior dramatic level. View the trailer for “The Town,” and honestly, straight-faced tell me that it does not make the film look epic.
Most films never even have a chance to live up to their trailer’s high standards, but “The Town” becomes one of the few to succeed, remaining just as awe-inspiring as the trailer and surpassing all expectations. Each segment of the film is noteworthy, thus the trailer’s effectiveness. It is a promoter’s dream (or curse, depending on how you look), with the entire film chock-full of hair-raising material.
“The Town” is primarily a string of interactions between two or more characters throughout the film but done so in a way that holds an audience’s attention. You may ask yourself, “aren’t all films a string of conversations?” but “The Town” finds a way to portray human interaction perfectly. Each moment in the film is special and unique. Two particular characters rarely speak to each other more than once, and if they do, it escalates a little more each time until their final breaking point, effectively building the film’s suspense. These constant string of memorable moments result from excellent writing and story structure, an art that few films/filmmakers have learned to master.
The story of “The Town” is simple. Charlestown is home to more bank robbers than any other part of the country. Don MacRay (Affleck) and James “Gem” Coughlin (Renner) head a particular gang in Charlestown that are extremely good at what they do. But when hothead Gem kidnaps the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), during a robbery, the FBI, with Jon Hamm in particular, starts to sniff around. When the gang finds out Claire is a local in Charlestown, Don keeps tabs on her. Instead, Don falls for Claire, and they begin a relationship behind the gang’s back. With more bank robberies and the FBI breathing down their neck, Don expresses his desire to leave Charlestown for good, but the proverbial shit hits the fan when this proves impossible. In an unlikely ending, like “Bonnie & Clyde,” the film progresses into nothing short of a masterpiece.
Ben Affleck shows no signs of strain as both director and actor. His character in the gang of bank robbers is settled nicely against his good guy Boston accent. Affleck proves he can be scary and dominating, countered with wit and charm (“I like to have a good cry at the nail salon”). Contrasted nicely is wildman Jeremy Renner. Renner takes his Hurt Locker performance and transcends it into a gangster from Charlestown. Renner’s character is positively off the handle and causes most of the excitement of the film. Renner takes it to the next level. The comedic scene where Affleck coyly asks Renner to beat up a gang in the Projects is a prime example (“I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it after”). A “harmless” situation with hockey masks and sticks eventually escalates into Renner pulling a gun on the mobster for what he allegedly did. Most heist films become generic when the police involved are despised. In “Bonnie & Clyde” and “Thelma & Louise,” you wholeheartedly side with the outlaws, even though, in all reality, what the outlaws are doing is morally wrong. However, in “The Town,” the film finally succeeds in getting an audience behind law enforcement.
Jon Hamm heading the FBI is a wise choice. Setting aside his 1960’s persona in “Mad Men,” Jon Hamm delivers a decent performance. His suave looks and poignant speaking skills (“this is the not fucking around crew… cause this not fucking around thing is about to go both ways”) cause some of the finer points in the film and build friction while you try to choose not only who to side with but who will end up the better man. I feel that very few actors could pull off the relatable agent, and with Jon Hamm showing his chops, he sets his future after “Mad Men” has settled.
The women actresses also blow past their boundaries, not because their performances were spot-on in “The Town,” but because compared to their body of work, this is their best performance. Rebecca Hall, best known for “Starter For 10” and “The Prestige,” plays Don’s love interest. Though her wishy-washy attitude gets exploited, the film means more than all her past performances combined. On the other hand, Blake Lively sets aside her “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Gossip Girl” roots and truly knocks relevancy into her part as Don’s former lover and sister to Gem. Her hooker-like, run-of-the-mill broken home survivor persona contradicts all Lively is known for in previous roles, and for the most part, she earns any acclamations she receives.
With a great cast, story, and excellent execution, “The Town” is damn near perfect. With the right mix of drama and well-handled action sequences with bank robberies, car chases, and stand-offs, “The Town” is straight from the likes of a Shakespearean tragedy. Come award season; if it does not garner at least a few nominations, I will be greatly surprised. Yet with “The Road” lacking nominations last year, there is always the strange possibility that it gets overlooked. From where I am standing, “The Town” is a solid film, the likes of which many directors, especially as their follow-up directorial debut, will never experience.
September 17, 2010
“Prince of Thieves”
by Chuck Hogan
Warner Bros. Pictures
(for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use)