Doug MacRay is a longtime thief, who, smarter than the rest of his crew, is looking for his chance to exit the game. But when a bank job leads to the group kidnapping attractive branch manager Claire Keesey, he takes on the role of monitoring her, but their burgeoning relationship threatens to unveil the identities of Doug and his crew to FBI Agent Adam Frawley who is on their case.
Before I went to see The Town, I heard some reviewer (and indeed the Warner Bros marketing department) compare it to Scorseseâ€™s 2006 Oscar winning The Departed and hence hint that Ben Affleckâ€™s latest work has all the credentials to follow a path to glory similar to Scorseseâ€™s movie. Notwithstanding the hype, I was not expecting much, so I was not too disappointed when The Town turned out to be, overall, a quite entertaining albeit unoriginal crime-movie.
There is nothing in the movie that you havenâ€™t seen already in some other movies of the same genre. Nonetheless, I should remark it, watching the movie wasnâ€™t a waste of my money or my time. The Town is an earnest movie that sometimes takes itself too much seriously. Certainly, it is not a masterpiece. If only Hollywood looked at quality, this film should not be Oscarsâ€™ material, alas I think many in Hollywood do not read this blogâ€¦so it wonâ€™t surprise me if, coming Spring, Ben Affleck will find himself with a basket full of Oscars! Good for him, if that will be the case.
Undeniably, The Town has two or three scenes quite well executed. The three robberies, for instance, are well shot, especially the second one at the centre of which is a long car-chase sequence across Boston. The action is certainly not the problem of the movie. The real problem is that The Town is quite average or below average when it comes to the core components of a good movie, that is, the direction, the acting and the writing.
To repeat, the movie has no particular fault, but this is not Michael Mannâ€™s Heat, or Tarantinoâ€™s Reservoir Dogs. Neither The Town is half as good as The Departed. Scorseseâ€™s movie rested on the well-oiled structure of its prime source of inspiration: Wai-keung Lau and Alan Makâ€™s Internal Affair. Affleckâ€™s script (co-written with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, and based on Chuck Hoganâ€˜s novel â€œPrince of Thievesâ€) is not always able to support the storyâ€™s needs and its characters. The script is at ease with the scenes and dialogues set in the Gangâ€™s neighbourhood but it becomes tediously clichÃ© when it deals with other matters, for instance the confrontation between the FBI and the Gang. Or the Romanceâ€™s scenes between Doug and Claire.
The weakest part is certainly the characterization of the federal police force. Jon Hammâ€™s Frawley is a forgettable FBI agent, he certainly wont make the history books of Hollywood in that role. The same can be said of Affleckâ€™s Doug MacRay. Ben Affleck and Jon Hamm (of Mad Men fame who plays FBI S.A. Adam Frawley) are not in the same league with De Niro and Pacino in Michael Mannâ€™s Heat. If the strength of your enemy is always a measure of your cleverness and value, if Scherlock Holmes can only be matched by Prof. Moriarty, if God needs Lucifer, and Superman Lex Luthor, then, given the depth of the lead character in this movie, it is only logical that Mr. McRay should only be confronted by someone as shallow as Mr. Frawley.
Conversely, the few (too few!) scenes with Pete Postlethwaite (the local Boss), and the one scene with Chris Cooper (who plays Stephen MacRay, Dougâ€™s father) are quite remarkable, but alas too short. Yet in those few minutes Postlethwaite can convey more drama and energy through his bony features than Hamm does throughout the whole movie. The same goes for Cooperâ€™s performance. The movie dedicates too much screen time to Mr. Affleck and too little to those like Postlethwaite and Cooper who could have raised the acting edge of the movie, what a pity!
Moreover, The Towm is a movie that has no belief in its female characters. The two lead-women in the story, Rebecca Hallâ€™s Claire Keesey and Blake Livelyâ€™s Krista Coughlin, respectively the new and the old love interest of Mr. MacRey, are truly one-dimensional characters to the point of stupidity. Keesey, bank manager-turned Community Angel represents the chance of a life time for MacRay to turn his life and start anew; on the other hand, Ms. Livelyâ€™s junkie is always drunk and high, she represents nothing but a lost cause, a burden that needs to be dropped. It is still not clear to me why Claire should fall in love with someone like Doug in the first place, and, more alarmingly, why should her love endure once she knows who Doug really is? These questions however seem of very little importance to Mr Affleck. Love, according to Mr Affleckâ€™s unimaginative script, is marry the bank manager and kick the junkie out of sight, or something like that.
I personally think that Ben Affleck is an overrated actor. As a writer â€“ even with an Oscar under his belt for Good Will Hunting â€“ he is quite average, but as a director, I should admit, he shows, here and there, some promises, but he needs to get rid of his unforgivable penchant for tiresome cliches and I found quite annoying his recurrent and banal use of time-lapse footage of clouded skies.
Overall, I give The Town 3 stars. If you are looking for some action with some pretense of depth about life and love, well this is the movie for youâ€¦ if, it must be said, you donâ€™t mind a movie that is predictable from start to finish.