Friday, September 24, 2010

The Town: A Review

The Town," Ben Affleck's second film as a director, is a sturdy enough, enjoyable enough crime drama suffering from shoot outs and car chases that are too long and finally beyond belief, formulaic predictability and finally a crescendo of unbelievability. The more I think about it, the less I find I like it.

There’s some really good acting from Jeremy Renner, passable acting from Affleck himself, who’s affecting but mostly stiff and stolid, and mediocre acting from a wimpy Rebecca Hall. John Hamm is underwhelming as a G-man on the case. He simply doesn’t fill the movie screen the way he fills the television screen in Mad Men. Pete Postlethwaite, on the other hand, chews up the scenery like a demented beaver chewing trees.

Charlestown, the “Town”, we are told, has more thieves and bank robbers than anyplace else in the world. Affleck, following his father’s line of work, heads a four-man crew, most notably Jeremy Renner. The movie does open well with the robbery of a Boston bank carried out with brutal efficiency marrying violence to the precise planning. The details are great: throwing all cell phones into a fishbowl, bleaching the crime scene to get rid of DNA, microwaving detectors and so on.

Renner plays a loose cannon when the crimes need discipline. He’s paranoid and jumpy and his mad intensity keeps bubbling up, never far from the surface. Renner’s acting and Postlethwaite’s show how stolidly limited Affleck’s is, though he’s adequate here.

Predictably—getting to know Rebecca Hall opens—predictably—Affleck to the possibility of a fuller life, transcending the town, with love to take the place of a life of crime. The relationship between Affleck and Hall is stiff and pretty boring. She’s a weak and unconvincing character. And the obsession Affleck carries for his mother who deserted him when he was seven isn’t believable. Nor believable is Postlethwaite in his manipulating Affleck into one more job—Fenway.

Affleck’s eye for detail inhabits the entire film. But the sheer accumulation of details turns into unbelievable chaos in the car chases and shoot outs. And the ascending incredulity reaches a climax in the robbing of Fenway Park.

This movie is so much less than Gone Baby Gone, which needed none of the pyrotechnics and sheer effects of The Town. Casey Affleck’s (and all the others') superb acting, quiet surprising strength coming from a slender, college boy of a man all combined with world weariness as he moves through life’s sewers barely protected by his torn wet suit, the atmospherics of Dorchester that vibrate with thematic resonance, the credible zig zags of the story and the movie’s earned moral dilemma all show by contrast the weaknesses of The Town.

I give The Town 2.65 out of 5.

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