The Town review
For the second half of the past decade, Ben Affleck has virtually faded from the Hollywood spotlight and taken a backseat to take on supporting roles in films such as Extract and Smoking Aces, while also directing 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. Now, with the release of The Town – starring and directed by Affleck – it’s safe to say that his career revival is back on track due to the splendid results behind the beautifully orchestrated action scenes, intelligently written dialogue, and outstanding performances from select actors.
Relying on a wonderful cast and a handful of colorful characters, The Town presents much more than a rejuvenation for Affleck; it’s a small coming out party for Jon Hamm, a confirmation that Jeremy Renner’s acting chops in The Hurt Locker weren’t a fluke and that Blake Lively isn’t to be considered a weak point – she holds up fine for the limited amount of screen time she received. Speaking about brevity, Chris Cooper wonderfully shows his face for an integral scene and then unfortunately disappears for the rest of the film. If there’s one thing that isn’t to be mistaken, it’s that there’s no such thing as too much Chris Cooper.
This isn’t to say that each and every character has a degree of importance behind them. Playing the straight man as the FBI agent hunting down the ever-elusive Affleck/Renner crew of bank robbers, Hamm truly isn’t given enough to do in the film nor does his character have an overarching plot that isn’t one note. Yes, his acting is at times mesmerizing. Yes, he upstages Affleck and Lively – sorry, Renner wins the shootouts with all his counterparts in the film – and even shares the limelight with TV’s Lost baddie, the “Man in Black.” But, comparing what the rest of the main cast was given when it comes to the plot, Hamm’s Special Agent Adam Frawley only gives hints about what could be an intriguing backstory – a real shame.
Renner on the other hand was able to take his character, Jem Coughlin, to highs and lows that only Affleck’s Doug MacRay was able to share. The on-screen chemistry between Renner and Affleck was marvelous with effects that provided a history without ever needing exact specificity. Their brotherhood was honest. Their dark and volatile pasts are believable, thus, making for a griping and quintessential film that is perhaps this generation’s Heat. Coughlin’s fall to his inner demons and anger is a sight that would shake anyone, but MacRay continues to share the sentimentality that, along with saving himself, he is capable of aiding Coughlin to remove himself from the criminal underground before it’s too late.
Set in Boston, the setting lives and breathes atmosphere of a criminal world that is passed from father to son. Behind the expertise of Affleck’s infatuation for the setting, Boston leaps off the screen and invites fans to become part of the gangster posse moving from one robbery to the next. While the cinematography isn’t a step above the rest of the ingredients, the direction of the action scenes do paint a colorful picture on the blue-collar world of Charlestown, a suburb of Boston. Every bank heist trumps the next; from Skeletor masks to the nun getups, MacRay’s crew wins over audiences with their tight-knit fellowship that their eventual escape allows a sigh of relief.
It’s not all non-stop action though; humor is dispersed evenly through the film (Cooper has a few memorable one-liners) to keep the audience on their toes, there’s an unexpected love story that blooms after the first heist, and dramatic revelations of MacRay’s childhood along with encounters with an old flame. It may have tried too hard to be an even film, but The Town works on all fronts; even if it sacrifices background of a few key characters to remain focused on the relationship between MacRay and friends.
The Town is essentially the welcoming back party for Affleck within acting and his grandiose sophomore film that avoids the pratfalls of a follow-up to an award-winning debut. It doesn’t hurt that Renner’s tour de force and Hamm’s enigmatic performances carry the film further than any ordinary heist flick. Violent and deceivingly touching, The Town is one of 2010’s best films that beg the question: How will Ben Affleck raise the bar with his next film?