Film Review: The Town

Another week, another new movie (odd, I expected things to calm down, but we’ve still got The Social Network and Let Me In coming out in the coming weeks too). In a somewhat similar vein to Scott Pilgrim, I wasn’t really initially excited about seeing The Town. There is an unavoidable stigma with one Ben Affleck, and despite recent work that goes a long way toward redeeming him (namely Hollywoodland and his directorial work on Gone Baby Gone), I’m still not fully convinced he can do a piece of cinema justice every time. The first trailer, which I still think was badly put together, made it seem like this was a twist movie that gave away the twist (the twist being that Affleck is one of the bank robbers). You watch the trailer and they make it out to be some kind of big revelation, which just made me annoyed (I really don’t like trailers that give away too much), and I was a little put off.

Reviews were good and I didn’t have a whole lot planned this weekend, so I decided to take the plunge and see it at Fenway Saturday afternoon. It’s a movie. It is not going to change the world. It is not going to win awards or even be considered for them. It is very straightforward and simple. What I can say, though, is that it’s very well executed, more than serviceable in the acting department, and is a decent enough way to spend a few hours at the theater. The story is basically what you would expect. Four friends make their living as bank robbers and take a female hostage during one of their hits. Affleck takes it on himself to make sure she doesn’t know enough to track them to the FBI, and romance ensues while the feds inch closer in on catching them. Simple. Straightforward. Effective.

Affleck himself has already proven he’s a better director than an actor, and while he doesn’t embarrass himself or anything, he gets a little tiring at times, especially during some of the longer monologues. The rest of the cast is a lot better than Affleck, which can tend to be a problem. I’ve held the unpopular opinion for a while now that Leonardo DiCaprio finds himself in similar positions often, where he’s a perfectly fine and solid actor, but is often cast across from much better actors in the supporting role and tends to seem underwhelming as the lead of the film. The same thing happens in The Town (and yes, I’m aware Leo is better at his craft than Affleck, but that’s not what I’m trying to say here). Jeremy Renner, specifically, was a bit of a revelation to me. The only film I had actively seen him in was The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and he was good, but didn’t really imprint himself on my mind. Haven’t seen The Hurt Locker, so in many ways this was the first major performance I’ve seen of the man destined to be Hawkeye in The Avengers. He’s very good. Jem is a dangerous character that believes in what he believes in and doesn’t think twice about the consequences of his actions. That sounds like a mess of platitudes, and it is, but as I mentioned this is a very straightforward story with pretty stock characters that are brought to life by the actors chosen to embody them. Jeremy Renner’s performance is an example of why this movie ends up working. You can see the ferocity in his eyes, that strange mix of calculation and impulse melding together at once (which screams Hawkeye to me, a good sign for Joss Whedon). To be honest, the vast majority of the movie is sold on Jeremy Renner’s performance.

Rebecca Hall (who I last saw in The Prestige) is good as the female lead. She doesn’t need to do much (this is a running theme), but she does it well. The other side of the coin is Jon Hamm, playing the sort of ‘hero cop who’s actually sorta the villain’ type role you see often in the heist/criminal films that are written and seen from the perspective of the thieves and not the cops. Hamm owns the role without difficulty, easily making his frustrations and blind desire to see the criminals brought to justice believable to the audience. There are other great, but minor performances, such as Chris Cooper’s one off scene as Affleck’s father that is specifically well done.

I guess the only real ‘flaw’ of the movie is that it never stretches itself to transcend the genre. I put flaw in quotation marks back there because the choice to revel in your genre his not always a bad one (though it can be. Case in point: Shutter Island); being the type of movie fan that I am, you’re never going to fully hook me unless you try something grand (it’s the different between Kick-Ass, which I liked just fine, and Spider-Man 2, which changed the superhero movie genre as a whole by itself in this writer’s opinion). There’s nothing abjectly wrong with making the conscious choice to do the best damned genre film you can. Nothing about The Town is surprisingly. You know exactly what’s going to happen at all times. The story beats of the heist genre are etched in stone for anyone that isn’t named Christopher Nolan. It’s tough watching another heist film after the majesty of Inception, but Affleck makes it work by sticking to his guns, playing to his strengths and not making any missteps. The Town is the perfect September movie to bridge us from the bombast of the summer to Oscar season.  I do my best to try and only see movies I think I’ll like. Tickets are so expensive in the cities that it’s difficult to justify shelling out the cash for something risky. I didn’t think The Town would be worth my money. It turns out that it was.

This post was written to the tune of Mastodon’s Leviathan


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