Details: (MA15+), 125 mins, In Cinemas 14 October 2010, United States, English
Synopsis: A tale of four men – thieves, rivals and friends – being hunted through the streets of Boston by a tenacious FBI agent and a woman who might destroy them all.
Crime thriller brings out the best and worst of Ben Affleck.
The perils of an actor doubling as the director of a movie in which he stars are vividly illustrated in The Town, Ben Affleck’s second effort behind the camera after Gone Baby Gone.
Affleck the director and co-scriptwriter has fashioned a tense, intelligent crime thriller set in Boston, based on the Chuck Hogan novel Prince of Thieves.
His major mistake: casting himself in the lead. Beneath the boyish charm, Affleck lacks the emotional depth and smarts to convincingly portray a working-class career criminal who’s confronted with various moral dilemmas.
Fortunately that shortcoming is offset by superb performances from Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm, and the narrative packs sufficient dramatic power and punch to keep the audience enthralled. That is, until the unconvincing ending which is far too kind to Affleck’s bad apple character.
He plays Doug MacRay, the leader of a four-man gang of thieves centred in the Charlestown district, identified in the film as having the highest annual rate of bank and armoured car robberies in the US. Renner, so cool and controlled in The Hurt Locker, is a polar opposite here as Jem, a hot-headed psychopath who’s been Doug’s best friend since childhood and has served nine years for manslaughter. Doug’s bonking Jem’s slutty sister (Blake Lively) without much passion or enthusiasm. His dad’s in jail and he grew up without his mother who disappeared when he was six.
In the slickly-edited opener, the masked crew holds up a bank and take as a hostage the manager Claire (Hall), before releasing her unharmed. Worried that she may be able to help the cops, Doug contrives to meet up with her in a laundromat and teases information from her.
Gradually he falls for the sweet, vulnerable Claire, which prompts him to plan to quit his nefarious life and go away with her. But the neighbourhood crime boss known as the Florist (a chilling Pete Postlethwaite), who has a strange hold over Doug, insists they pull off one more heist. Of course it’s just a matter of time before Claire discovers Doug’s dark secret, while the FBI led by ruthless agent Frawley (Hamm) closes in on the gang.
There are some brilliantly-orchestrated robbery and chase sequences and shoot-outs, handsomely photographed by Robert Elswit. But the romance strains credulity and, as noted, the ending is a trite let-down.
Affleck the director generously gives his leading man numerous close-ups but often his face registers a blank stare: whatever his virtues he’s not the most expressive of actors.
And the director can hardly instruct the actor to amp it up or to reveal more shades of emotion, so we’re left wondering how Doug really feels about Claire, about how he’s deceiving her, and the anguish he’ll cause.
You can see why Affleck coveted the part, the kind of meaty, dramatic fare he’s rarely offered, after a string of flops, mostly in the rom-com genre. “A huge part of this effort was me wanting to play the lead role,” he told one interviewer. “I hadn’t had the chance to play a character this interesting in a long time, and in that sense it did feel like Good Will Hunting in that I viewed this movie in part as a step in my acting career.”
Trouble is, The Town could have been a far better and more compelling movie with someone else as the star.
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