Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday Movie Review: The Town

The Town (2010) 8/10
For Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), Jim Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), and their friends, bank robbery is the family business. They live in the Charlestown section of Boston, a center for bank and armored car robbery. Now Doug wants out. He's falling for Claire (Rebecca Hall) and the FBI is looking into his last robbery. But getting out isn't going to be easy. Directed by Ben Affleck.

The Town
makes an art of gritty, but it still looks good. Maybe I should say Affleck can't make up his mind, but instead I feel like he recognizes the fine line between realistic and annoying. There's certainly a trend towards documentary-style, hand-held, muted colors, and the like, to broadcast to the audience, "Hey, we're authentic!" Yeah, sure. What Affleck does is cut in little bits of grittier filming, blended with a more conventional look, and it works. It's important, because it's the kind of movie where people say "the city is a character," and so you do have to feel the locations. There's a strong sense here of alleys, bars, shops, crappy apartments, gentrification—the whole way in which a city lives, breaths, and grows.


Speaking of the city as a character, The Town features one of the best car chases I've seen in years; a real throwback to movies like The French Connection and Bullitt. Those movies, both famous for their car chases, were also very much about the cities in which they were located. The French Connection had a car chase that could take place nowhere but New York, and The Town's is strictly Boston. It's a great chase because it's down to the ground, connected to its streets in a specific way. I know nothing about how it was filmed but it felt real, not CGI, not overly staged. It had a thrillingly haphazard quality to it.

It's a very modern movie, with exciting, slightly over the top action, that is essentially a film noir. The two movies that came into my head watching it were Criss Cross and The Killing. The strange notion of romancing your former hostage actually makes more sense if you look at it in a noir context: fate, wrong decisions, harms done in the past returning to the present.

The crime gang, led by Affleck and Renner, are of a piece with their neighborhood. They all seem almost to look alike, the way they blend in with their environment. Affleck is smart and weary, Renner a loose cannon and over-eager; these are cliches, of course. We've seen that before, as well as the way loyalty makes the smart one stupid. But it's well done; lived-in and fleshed-out. Blake Lively has a nice turn as Jim's sister and Doug's ex, as does Chris Cooper as Doug's incarcerated father. It's a movie full of very lived-in actors who really get down to the bones of their characters.

Which brings us to Jon Hamm, as FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley. He's in town to investigate our boys' most recent bank robbery. In it, the assistant bank manager was beaten brutally, and the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) was taken as a hostage and then let go.

Jon Hamm does not belong in this movie.

I feel bad saying it, because he's a terrific actor, and he does great with the part. Like the rest of the cast, he's really earthy and direct. He's also got real movie star presence, which is not something you know about an actor you've seen on TV until you actually watch him on the big screen. The problem is, Hamm has a lot of presence. He's startlingly handsome, and yet he's not the leading man, nor a romantic presence, nor is he meant to be dashing or exciting. It's as if he was cast in a role written for Charles Durning. And really, he acts the shit out of it, but it's distracting to see Durning's lines coming from that face.