Friday, September 17, 2010

The Town

“Charlestown, a blue collar Boston neighborhood, produces more bank robbers and armored car thieves than any square mile in the world.”

This isn't the first time Ben Affleck has adapted a novel for the big screen. The Town shares much in common with Gone Baby Gone including plenty of local Boston color, an Affleck in the starring role (though it's Ben this time, not Casey), and, once again, a good build-up which leads to a somewhat unsatisfying ending.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the brains behind a Charlestown armed robbery crew that includes local boys Gloansy (Slaine) and Dez (Owen Burke), and his unstable best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner). Doug went into the family business working for the local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite), just as his father (Chris Cooper) did before earning a life-sentence in prison.

On the latest job, Doug falls for the assistant bank manager (Rebecca Hall), who the crew take hostage. (Did I mention he's the smart one?) Finding an excuse to meet her under other circumstances, the pair begin an unlikely romance that hinges on her never discovering his involvement in the crime. (Gee, I wonder if she'll figure it out?)

Also along for the ride is Jem's sister (Blake Lively), also Doug's former girlfriend, and the FBI Agent (Jon Hamm) in charge of solving the crime and bringing the crew to justice.

In Gone Baby Gone I felt most of the film's weaknesses were a result of the twists inherent in the source material. With The Town I'm not sure that's the case. This film, based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, is much more uneven than Affleck's directorial debut. The Town is far more formulaic and less compelling. It's really kind of a mess.

I was not a fan of Lively's performance as the junkie single-mother. She does what she can, but appears woefully miscast in the role. I'd mention Chris Cooper but he's given so little to do here that his presence isn't necessary. Hamm gets far more screen-time, but is likewise wasted. The police investigation is little more than an afterthought, often disappearing completely for extended stretches. And though the high-action climax gives us plenty of bullets and bloodshed, I did not appreciate the far-too-cute coda tagged onto the film's ending.

That's not to say there the film is a complete waste of time. There are several clever moments, one darn good car chase through the windy single-lane back streets of Boston, and more than a couple of good laughs. Although we get none of the planning on-screen, the heist scenes themselves also work well. Affleck is serviceable in the lead, Renner is well-cast as the volatile best friend (a role he could do in his sleep), and Hall gives the character as much heart as the script allows.

Both the book and the film begin with quotes about Charlestown creating more bank robbers than any other neighborhood in the country. It's probably the most interesting piece of information the story gives us, but sadly it's also one point that isn't explored (except on the surface) by the film. The setting feels natural to the tale, but it never really breathes and enhances the story (except during the two big action sequences which fully take advantage of the surroundings).

The Town plays like a B-movie version of Michael Mann's Heat without (forgive the pun) any real heat. It aspires to be, and should amount to, more. It has its moments, but more than a few missteps as well. As a sucker for heist films I'll give it the slightest recommendation, but unless you love heist flicks too or you're a huge fan of anyone involved (and maybe even if you are) you could easily wait to check it out on DVD or cable (where it probably belongs).

No comments: