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The Town

September 18, 2010

The Town

The premise of The Town is that within the gentrifying Boston blue-collar-Irish neighborhood of Charlestown, armed robbery has become something of a trade, passed down from father to son like a family craftsman’s business. Whether that’s true or not, Ben Affleck sees his best change to get another shot of critical acclimation is to return to his Boston roots like he did in Good Will Hunting, albeit on the north side this time.

In addition to cowriting the screenplay and directing, Affleck plays the lead as Doug MacRay, the head of a skilled, disciplined team of bank and armored car robbers rounded out by his childhood friends Jem (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy (Slaine), and Dez (Owen Burke). In taking up this role from his imprisoned father (Chris Cooper), Doug gives up on a possible professional hockey career. By the time of the film’s action, Doug is dissatisfied with his life, and is looking for a way out.

At the same time, the FBI has taken notice of the team, and agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is looking for any chink in their armor. And ultimately an increasingly-erratic Jem is that weak point. In an otherwise impeccably-choreographed bank heist, Jem loses his cool and takes the bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage just in case they need a bargaining chip. They make it away as planned, and proceed to drive her around in circles before stealing her driver’s license and dropping her off somewhere in Charlestown.

The problem, they find, is that she’s one of the white-collar “tunies” moving in and gentrifying Charlestown, and if she saw anything that could identify the team, she might well recognize them around town. Doug decides that the task of making sure she’s not a threat is better left to him than the hotheaded Jem, but he doesn’t count on falling for Claire while checking up on her.

Affleck clearly wants the film to be Significant and Meaningful, but it’s too busy being an action heist movie for that. And to be sure it’s a pretty good one at that. I tend to prefer my heist movies more like long-con movies, but that’s just a personal preference. If you like them actiony, you’ll like this. It’s got one really well-done chase scene, and there’s plenty of small-arms fire that’s not about to hit anyone until it’s supposed to. But it strays from any chance of being more than that pretty early on. We just don’t spend anywhere near the time developing Doug’s background and motivations in the detail we’d need to get real insight out of them.

Worth it: sure.
Bechdel test: fail.

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