The Town (2010) D: Ben Affleck

The Town

The Town

Ben Affleck’s second feature as director is a vivid and lingering look at a single square mile of Charlestown, Boston. Charlestown has a reputation for housing the most bank robbers and armoured car thieves in all of the USA. Affleck co-wrote the screenplay which is based on the novel by Chuck Hogan.

The Town is the tale of Doug MacRay, career criminal, whose childhood friends form part of his robbery outfit and whose father is in prison for the same crimes. On the job that opens the film, one of the gang, the unhinged Jem (Jeremy Renner) takes Claire, a young female bank manager, hostage (Rebecca Hall).  She is released unharmed, but Claire, it turns out, lives in Charlestown. Jem wants her dead, in case she identifies them, while Doug trails her to a laundromat where they meet and strike up a relationship. MacRay, we learn early on, wants out of the life. Of course, there’ll need to be one big score before he ends his criminal life.

If the final score sounds familiar, it’s because it is a key plot device of most heist films – and The Town borrows a little from some memorable films. Namely, the 1970s violent gun-heavy action of Sam Peckinpah and the dialogue-heavy drama of Sidney Lumet. The three main set pieces of the film evoke the car chases, bank robberies and hostage situations of the best crime films of the 70s. Even the autumnal sheen of The Town lends it a 1970s mission-brown warmth.

With shooting done on-location in Boston, The Town takes place among the red brick, steel and concrete of its urban setting. The camera is given enough freedom to make it subtly vérité but not in the overtly handheld way that has been overused for years now. Characters are quickly hurled together to create the necessary plot points, but once there are handed long and sometimes labored dialogue tracts to share. While the time to explore character isn’t a bad thing, it can at times slow down the pacing of the film – especially in the 150+ min Extended Cut version.

It is refreshing to see this kind of film making in the modern age, however. What Affleck has done with The Town is update the 1970s bank heist film with a touch of Western storytelling. Everything for a blood-thirsty Western film is here – like outlaws and guns, a romance and  corruptible and murderous lawmen on a mission. Once upon a time, Doug MacRay would have been the lone Western hero making his last stand at high noon. Affleck’s  heist film it seems is an urban Western where the viewer’s sympathy lies with the charismatic outlaw and his pretty, innocent girl while violent lawmen try to bring him down.

In reality, The Town is not nearly up to the standard of films such as Dog Day Afternoon, The Getaway and The Killing, but it displays quite a few worthy directorial chops from Affleck and is a step in the right direction back to the days of crime films with a conscience and a brain.

A violent heist film with a smart nod to the best of the 70s. 4 stars

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~ by mfnm on October 5, 2012.

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