Unreal Movie Review: The Town

There are few actors that have gone to hell and back again to the degree Ben Affleck has. We loved him in Good Will Hunting, Armageddon and endless amounts of Kevin Smith movies. Then something happened. Whether it was dating JLo, or the prospect of being an A-lister becoming too much to bear, something in his brain snapped and he began picking awful roles after awful roles; Pearl Harbor, Bounce, Paycheck, Daredevil, Surviving Christmas and the lead role in what’s universally agreed upon as one of the worst films ever made, Gigli.

But the man IS a good actor, and very smart to boot, and eventually he slowed down his crazy train to a crawl, and figured out how to be in worthwhile movies again. Make them himself.

Affleck’s debut feature, Gone Baby Gone, was impressive in its own right, but perhaps was amplified a bit by the mystique that is was the actor’s first ever effort, and it turned out to be a decent film. Now with The Town, Affleck has proven that wasn’t just a fluke, and the man has now directed, written and starred in one of the greatest heist movies ever made.

The Town isn’t just good, it’s great, and signals a bright career ahead for Affleck as a director. It’s has a few dramatic flaws to be sure, but the action is top notch, and veterans of the genre will even find themselves wondering, “Wow, could this actually be better than Heat?”

You’re damn right it can.

The film draws heavily on that classic to be sure. We see the perspective of a bank robbery from both sides of the law, and naturally rooting for the bad guys. There are glorious gun battles and car chases in the streets, making bank robbery look a dozen times more exciting than it ever is in real life. But this is a fresh, modern take on the tale, and one that should soon earn classic status in its own right.

Affleck is Doug MacRay, a rising Boston hockey star turned criminal when he couldn’t keep his temper under control. With a father in jail, bank robbery is a family business, and his crew is one of the best in town, as proven by their brutally efficient heist in the opening moments of the film.

Jeremy Renner shows up sneering as Doug’s lifelong best friend Jim, who is constantly bordering on criminally insane with the level of brutality he enjoys during jobs. Blake Lively is Jim’s sister and Doug’s go-to hookup since childhood. But she’s kicked to the curb as soon as Doug falls for Claire (Rebecca Hall), a pretty young bank manager who happens to be the FBI’s lead witness in an ongoing case against his crew. Needless to say, things get complicated quickly.

“I kidnapped her AND I got her number, how do you like DEM APPLES?”

This last bit reveals the one gaping flaw of the film. Doug is presented as an incredibly smart guy, with the ability to pull off any number of complex crimes like clockwork. You would think a lifetime of criminal instincts would tell him to not get involved with a woman he has just recently taken hostage, and it’s unbelievable his character would be so weak in the knees for some random attractive woman. It feels much more like a plot device than natural character progression, and degrades an otherwise incredible film.

Outside of one ill-conceived romance, everything else about the world here feels authentic.  This in part has to do with Affleck’s storied history with Boston, as no one knows the town better. Because of this, everything from the setting, to the dialogue to even the clothing feels realistic. We can only hope his writing and directing talents will someday extend to a film that DOESN’T take place in his hometown.

Renner and Lively, the brother and sister deliver two particularly powerful performances. Renner, as we all know from last year’s The Hurt Locker, is an Oscar caliber actor, and here he’s sadistic to the point of being scary, but he’s still a very layered character with good reasons for being the way he is. Lively on the other hand, is a complete surprise, as previously we’ve really only seen her as a prep-school socialite in Gossip Girl. Who knew she had it in her to play a completely convincing drugged out Boston slut?

Serena van der Woodsen: the later years.

Another TV star looking to make the big jump to film is Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who plays the lead FBI agent in charge of pursuing the elusive robbers. It was a great casting call by Affleck, to make the guy who looks like Superman with Dudley Dooright’s chin into the movie’s bad guy, and he may be the most one dimensional of all the characters in the film, but plays his part well.

As for Affleck himself? He’s the most likable he’s been since Good Will Hunting, and it’s clear he’s most comfortable acting in scene’s he’s directed and saying lines he’s written. Some actors get lazy when they’re directing themselves, but Affleck seems to only work harder.

The action is a hybrid of the fury of Heat and the smarts of Inside Man. The jobs, especially the final one, are well thought out, and exciting to watch unfold, but when things go awry and automatic gunfire is the only answer, that’s plenty of fun to watch as well.

I really am stunned by Affleck’s talent in the director chair, and I genuinely look forward to seeing his new career develop. If he can survive moving out of Boston for future storylines, he might turn out to be one of our truly great directors someday.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Best of luck Ben, you’ve had a hell of a start.

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  1. I thought this movie was OK, but nothing great. Although I’ve been joking with my roommates (who went to the movie with me) everytime I see them, yelling “Chahlestown is wicked fahkin hahdcore! If you dont rahb banks ya a fahkin queah!”

    So I got that going for me….

  2. Oh and my only REAL problem with the movie: If you’re such great bank robbers why in the hell would you tell the coked out boston slut what you’re up to? Family or not, that chick is a f*ck up.

  3. Loved it. The movie and the review. Lol on J5’s comment “Chahlestown is wicked fahkin hahdcore!!” – yeah, we can’t stop doin this ridiculous accent either 🙂

  4. “The Town” is one movie where I was unwilling and unable to suspend my disbelief for any length of time, because it’s so much more like a made-for-TV, feature-length soap opera than a regular movie. Sure, the opening shots of Charlestown and Boston, generally, as well as the opening bank heist, was interesting, but “The Town”, for me, went from being okay to being just plain awful…in a matter of minutes.

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