Movie Review – The Town (2010)
by HELEN GEIB
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
In theaters at the same time, Takers also opened with a skillfully executed bank heist, and thought it was tough when it wasn’t.