Friday, September 17, 2010



My interest in seeing the newest presentation from Ben Affleck peaked when I saw the first riveting trailer for The Town. Bank robberies, car chases, semi-automatic weapons, hot women (Rebecca Hall), Jeremy Renner, and dialogue laced with a thick Baaaaston (Boston) accent. Affleck's directing debut, Gone Baby Gone (he also adapted the screenplay from the novel), was a movie that went under the radar for how great it was. His second directorial effort, The Town, was also adapted for the screen from a novel called The Prince of Thieves. While I am not a huge fan of Affleck's on screen achievements (he has a handful of solid roles), his performance in The Town was one of his best.

The Town didn't waste any time before jumping into an intense action scene following the intelligent robbers masked with grey skull faces and dreadlocks. These disguises ratcheted up the element of fear as you stared into their hidden masked merciless eyes. The fast paced music matches the mood of the opening heist sequence as the robbers skillfully cover all their angles at the bank to perfectly complete their plan to grab the money. The action sequences were all focused on Affleck's team of thieves stealing money from the rich. The sound effects of the blasting guns in stand-offs with the police, the squeal of the tires during a car chase, and explosions were so loud they pull the audience into the scene. The three heist sequences were well thought out and well executed by the production team.

The storyline effectively takes you through the characters difficult personal lives bridging the time between the powerful action sequences. The time spent with the mask off allows you to empathize with the characters need for significance in their poverty stricken surroundings. Affleck's character Doug leads the band of robbers and meticulously plans out each job while trying to keep his team, also his best friends, out of the reach of the police force, and then later the FBI. Doug ends up having a sweet tooth for one of the bank managers played by the lovely Rebecca Hall. He plays the traditional role of the bad boy trying to change his ways while keeping his new flame in the dark about his real life. This conflict of interest always adds tension to any drama, and The Town is no different.

The best role in The Town comes from Doug's best friend and second in command, James Coughlin. The role is played by Jeremy Renner, and if you still don't know who he is, you will very soon as his face will be all over the silver screen in the coming years. His character provides the most tension between all the parties involved in the bank robberies as the violent, deranged, lose cannon-type. His adrenaline fix comes from the thrill of the heist.

A strong performance also in need of praise comes from Blake Lively playing the drugged out sister of Renner's character. I knew Lively was in The Town before the screening, but it wasn't until her third or fourth appearance that it hit me, "Oh snap, that's Blake Lively!" She immersed herself into the thick Boston accented, alcoholic, pill popping, street trash role that was required of her. The antagonist, the FBI agent Adam Frawley, was played wonderfully by Jon Hamm. His desperation to catch these criminals is apparent as he uses less than text book police tactics to try and catch his prey.

The writing for the movie was solid throughout. The attention to the main characters' plight was well defined. The direction by Affleck was strong at times, and less than adequate during others. Some moments I thought, "Nah, I really don't like the way that shot was framed." There were also a few jump cuts that caught my eye. Affleck also spent too much time in a helicopter scanning the Boston skyline to bridge from scene to scene. I personally have never seen that many establishing shots, and this effort was definitely over-kill.

It isn't like the audience is going to forget we are in Boston just because the scene changes, someone ought to tell Ben that. I can understand if he was trying to show off the majestic beauty of the colonial city, but it really was way too much use of this type of shot. After the tenth time it really adds no new texture to the story. It doesn't tell us anything new about the city itself, the characters, or the plan to steal more money. A shot of someone getting beat up, a drug deal from afar, or even the sound of guns shots, those are fine examples of an establishing shot displaying the natural surroundings of the story's setting. A helicopter with a camera scanning the city does nothing for me.

Another thing that bothered me about The Town was how little the script spent focusing on any of the other characters involved in the robberies. Of course the screenwriters can chose which characters to develop, and developing all the characters isn't always a possibility. In this story, I think it really was important to profile more than just Affleck and Renner's characters. If the team all grew up together and are such close friends, I think that needs to be established so we care about each working part emotionally during the heist sequences.

Also, The Town missed showing the work that goes into carrying out each heist perfectly. It was barely shown one time as the characters stare at a map and talk for ten seconds, but that is hardly an effort in my book. A big part of the tension in scenes like a heist, is when the audience feels included in the planning stages. Knowing how difficult it is to pull the job off and the stakes involved is what brings the tension to a higher level. I'm not asking for anything on par with Ocean's 11 where the audience is pulled into the whole planning process, but this movie barely does it justice.

Overall, The Town was another great project stemming from the behind the scenes work of Ben Affleck. Though he did a fine job as the film's lead character, his best work in The Town came from his directing and writing. It is a movie that I am sure few will not enjoy. Many will actually think it was better than I did because the problems I had with The Town were minor shortcomings to the overall project. The acting from the star-studded cast was superb, the action was exhilarating, the story was fulfilling, the tension was always apparent, and the thick Baaaaston accents are always fun to hear.

See The Town in theaters, missing it on the big screen would be a shame.


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