The Town

town
Movie review by Greg Carlson

Ben Affleck returns to Boston in “The Town,” a generically titled reference to armed bank robbery academy Charlestown, the gentrified neighborhood that tough Irish mobsters once called home. Based on Chuck Hogan’s 2004 novel “Prince of Thieves,” “The Town” swings hard for Fenway’s Green Monster, and its pastiche of blue-collar drama, class-divide courtship, and jittery heist thriller will appeal to viewers who enjoy the adrenaline rush of movies like Michael Mann’s “Heat,” to which “The Town” owes a sizable debt. Despite the repetition of its shootouts, Affleck the filmmaker confidently stages car chases and gun battles, even if his facility with delicate romance lacks the same flair.

As a director, Affleck fails to top the quality of his debut “Gone Baby Gone,” due in no small measure to the challenge of pulling double duty as lead actor. Affleck’s Doug MacCray is pure Hollywood fantasy: a vicious thug and thief capable of tenderness and compassion. While the other members of his gang pound whiskey, sober MacRay nurses cranberry juice and a broken heart over the long-ago disappearance of his fragile mother. It is no wonder that he falls for Rebecca Hall’s Claire Keesey, the bank manager kidnapped and terrorized by MacRay’s disguised crew during a successful stickup. Of course, Claire has no idea that her new boyfriend held her hostage at gunpoint, and the viewers wait anxiously for the other shoe to drop.

Doug’s feelings for Claire strain the bond he shares with childhood friend Jem (Jeremy Renner), a combustible sociopath on a collision course with the FBI agents closing the net on the crooks. Also complicating Doug’s life is Jem’s sister Krista (Blake Lively), a single mother and drug addict whose child may or may not have been fathered by Doug. Unfortunately, the masculine swagger of “The Town” leaves little for the two key female characters to do, and both Hall and Lively take it on the chin, although the latter shares a terrific scene in a gritty dive with John Hamm’s federal agent. No believable explanation is offered for the ease and speed with which the more sophisticated Claire falls for the jagged Doug, and the movie’s twist on Stockholm syndrome is its most problematic component.

“The Town” has already been sized up against other Boston-set movies, including “The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “The Departed,” and “Mystic River,” and the city certainly announces its presence as a colorful, major character. Shots of the Bunker Hill Monument, the Charles River, the Zakim Bridge and the dense maze of North End construction abet the filmmaker’s desire for credibility, even if locals will scoff at the range of accents displayed by the cast members. The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr helpfully points out to residents and non-residents alike that “The Town” takes place in Movie Boston, and reminds the hyper-sensitive Suffolk County skeptics who chortled during the trailer that one of author Hogan’s aims was to comment on the drawbacks of border-defined insularity. Affleck, as expected, is more interested in getting the fantasy right, and on that score, “The Town” is not half bad.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 9/20/10.

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