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October 2, 2010

17

Movie Review – The Town (2010)

by HELEN GEIB

The Town (2010)

The Town is a good looking movie. It was filmed on-location in Boston and Charlestown, the old working class neighborhood that gives the film its title and is home to its bank robber hero and his crew. The filmmakers made excellent use of the location shooting to give the crime drama story an air of verisimilitude. The several heist scenes are proficiently staged and filmed and there is a car chase through the city’s old, narrow, twisting streets that is really very exciting. Ben Affleck again shows promise as a director following on his behind-the-camera debut with Gone Baby Gone.

The film is reasonably well acted by Affleck as the principled professional robber, Jeremy Renner- in the film’s standout performance- as his loose-cannon chief confederate and childhood friend, Blake Lively as the friend’s addict sister and the hero’s on-again, off-again sex friend, Jon Hamm as the FBI agent-in-charge, and Rebecca Hall as the hero’s “good girl” love interest. The performances go some way to disguising the fact the characters are overly familiar, underwritten cops-and-robbers types. The story is likewise highly formulaic, and the script’s third act collapse reveals the soft center under the film’s gritty-tough surface.

The milieu, the “will he leave the life before it kills him” storyline, and the character lineup of hardened criminals and bloody-minded cops cries out for a tough-minded, hard-edged treatment. It wanted the unsentimental bleakness of a French existential thriller, or the relentless fatalism of a Hong Kong heroic bloodshed crime movie.

The Town is ridiculous and sentimental. It goes to great lengths to ground its characters in a brutal reality, only to sacrifice realism on the altar of a conventional happy ending. It veers into absurdity in its insistence on keeping the hero sympathetic. A prime, and relatively spoiler-free example is the great care that is taken to show that no armored car guard, bank employee, cop, or innocent bystander is killed in the commission of the gang’s crimes, and almost none are even wounded. This despite the shooting up of numerous police cars, the brutal beating of a bank employee, the shooting at close range with intent to kill of an armored car guard, and the minutes-long exchange of gunfire in close quarters between the robbers and the FBI/Boston PD, during which all of the gang, including the hero, do their best with fully loaded semi-automatic weapons.

The film is also over-stuffed with plot strands. Neither the love story nor the brotherhood story, centered on the hero’s fraught relationship with Renner’s character, takes center stage, leaving both stories wanting. A potentially interesting dynamic between incarcerated father (Chris Cooper, under-utilized in a single scene part) and son on the fast track to prison gets short shrift. The FBI agent and his team drift in and out of focus with the convenience of the plot.

The non-development of Hall’s love interest character is especially disappointing. She is introduced and kept on stage in the early scenes as if she is an important character in her own right; however, she proves to be nothing more than the embodiment of the hero’s longing for a different, higher-class life. Her depiction as an angel in human form- when not volunteering at the local boys and girls club and bringing sunshine into the lives of disadvantaged children, she is seen framed by flowers at her plot in the community garden- is inconsistent with her moral cowardice. The inconsistency may perhaps be explained, though not justified by the fact that her timely cowardice rationalizes a necessary plot point. An improbable emotional turnabout is demanded by the Hollywood-false, feel-good finale.

Finally, she is the vehicle for the film’s parting moral lesson: It’s okay to accept a bag of stolen money from your career-criminal boyfriend as long as you donate some of it to support local youth sports.

1 1/2 stars

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In theaters at the same time, Takers also opened with a skillfully executed bank heist, and thought it was tough when it wasn’t.


17 Comments Post a comment
  1. miriam
    Oct 2 2010

    This is cruel, to tell me there’s a good car chase and then discourage me from seeing the movie. Where would you rank the chase scene among recent great ones?

  2. Ken
    Oct 3 2010

    I was thinking about seeing this, since I’d heard some buzz that it was in the mold of “Heat”. I’ll hold off now. Thanks!

  3. Helen
    Oct 3 2010

    The love story is something of a hybrid of the DeNiro/Brenneman and Kilmer/Judd characters’ relationships from Heat, but otherwise I wouldn’t say there’s much similarity, in either plot or visuals.

  4. Helen
    Oct 3 2010

    The Town’s car chase falls into the Urban, Realistic species, gold standard = Ronin. I wouldn’t rank it as highly as the chases in The Rock, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, or Four Brothers, but it isn’t absurd to put it in the same sentence.

  5. miriam
    Oct 3 2010

    The chase in The Rock was the best thing about that movie, really thrilling. I’m glad to see you include the one in Four Brothers, a personal favorite of mine. I particularly like the convention defying car chases which play out against some constraint, eg urban crowds, poor car, or, like this one, bald tires on snow covered city streets.

  6. mplo
    Jan 16 2013

    “The Town”, imho is one of these movies that is so bad that it’s good. On the one hand, “The Town” is an overrated, hyped-up, cheesy piece of junk that’s more like a feature-length, made-for-TV, cartoon-esqu soap opera than a regular film, and, on the other hand, “The Town” is good for lively discussions.

    The beginning of The Town, with the aerial/ground shots of Boston and its Charlestown section, as well as the opening bank heist, indicates the potential that “The Town” had for being really good and solid, but after the beginning, “The Town” went from being okay to being just plain awful…in a matter of minutes.

  7. Jan 16 2013

    I found that it was entirely mediocre and was never interesting. The trailer reveals the entire film and that’s because not much happens. There’s an attempt to develop its characters but after 2.5 hours, the film just drags and, again, not much happens. It’s entirely predictable and I’d love to hear from those millions of people that loved it why they think that it’s a good film.

    So far, I’d say that Ben Affleck, as a director, is 1 for 3. Gone Baby Gone is his only good film.

  8. Jan 16 2013

    And re the car chase, I don’t remember there being one. I know that there was one or two but I don’t remember them. I guess they’re terrible. There isn’t a single thrilling action or chase scene in The Town because they’re all too short and simply, they suck.

    Bullitt has the greatest car chase scene in film history, then any car chase depicted in Walter Hill’s The Driver. And if I remember correctly Ronin has three car chases, but only the second and third ones are good.

  9. Jan 16 2013

    @mplo: I’ve gotta stop at “so bad” but you make a good point about the wasted potential

  10. mplo
    Feb 14 2013

    Thanks, Helen.

  11. mplo
    Feb 17 2013

    I also might add that I think that “The Town” could’ve done with far less of the Doug/Claire romance scenes, which were tiresome, immature and dull, imo, and concentrated more on not only the heists and the FBI on the trail of Doug and his men, but also on the brother-like relationships between Doug and his men, as well as the clannishness and insularity of a tough white working-class urban community. That would’ve made the film more interesting. I also think that the Alternate Ending, where Doug is ultimately gunned down by one of the guys who he and Jem had assaulted, permanently crippled and ordered “out of Charlestown” after breaking into their C-Town project apartment just simply because they’d thrown some bottles at Claire when she’d unwisely walked through a housing project alone, and even after she solved the problem herself by deciding to go the long way in the future, would have made this movie a better film, by giving it a different message: That escaping one’ birthplace and parental upbringing is far easier said than done, and that crime really doesn’t pay.

  12. Feb 17 2013

    What I don’t understand is how The Town is just over two hours long (which is far too long for a film like this) and that there’s an extended cut that adds, at least, 30 minutes into the mix. How can one add more into a film like this and expect it to be a good thing?

  13. Feb 17 2013

    @mplo: Funny you should mention that crime really doesn’t pay thing. A friend I saw the movie with still likes to kid me about how worked up I got over the Florida beach house sunset ending.

  14. mplo
    Jul 9 2013

    Thanks again for your input, Helen and Nir Shalev. “The Town” is a bit too long, and, moreover, the fact that Doug (in the theatrical version, anyhow), finally gets to look out over a Florida bayou at the sunset isn’t enough punishment for him. Claire should’ve been made to keep her trap shut and not answer any of Doug’s calls. Instead, she tips Doug off to the presence of the Feds in her Charlestown Condo, when they were right on the verge of arresting Doug, having him tried, charged with and sent to serve long, hard time in a Federal penitentiary for his crimes, like he should’ve been.

    Claire, on the other hand, should’ve been criminally prosecuted herself, or at least put on some sort of probation for being an accessory to Doug MacRay’s crimes, and for receiving stolen goods (Doug’s blood-stained loot money.)

  15. Jul 9 2013

    @mplo, I don’t want to sound rude but you seem to remember a lot more of the film than I do. I, honestly don’t remember most of it. I simply remember the four main lead actors and that’s it.

  16. mplo
    Jul 10 2013

    Hi, Nir Shalev. You don’t sound rude at all. I remember “The Town”, because if something’s either really bad (as “The Town” is) or really good (as West Side Story is!), then, in either case, it tends to really stick in my mind, for some reason.

    I remember Doug and Claire as the lead actors, and neither one of them cut the mustard, really, if one gets the drift. I remember Blake Lively as the slatternly, drugged-out, drunken sister of “Jem”, who was played by Jeremy Renner, as well as Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver, who played the two prominent FBI/law officials who were out to bring Doug and his men to justice. Btw, Adam Frawley (played by Jon Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (played by Titus Welliver), who were the FBI agents, were, imo, the only people who I sympathized with and rooted for, because I really wanted Doug and his men (especially Doug) to be caught and sent back to prison, where he belonged.

    Too bad Claire got off scott-free.

    Btw, I consider your bringing up my rememberance of “The Town” as a compliment. Thanks.

  17. Jul 10 2013

    lol

    You’re very welcome! :O)

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