- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by David Medsker
y all rights, “The Town” shouldn’t be any more interesting than “The American,” George Clooney’s old-school thriller about an assassin who wants out. Neither movie features a character or plot device that you haven’t seen before, and yet “The Town” is able to overcome its familiarity thanks to solid acting, amusing dialogue, and one of the better car chases ever shot. You know exactly how it’s going to end, yet somehow that doesn’t distract from its overall enjoyment.
Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay, a onetime hockey hopeful-turned bank and armored car thief. Their most recent bank job involved taking bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage, and when Doug’s hot-headed partner and closest friend James (Jeremy Renner) suggests that they silence her, Doug tails Claire, inadvertently gets much closer to her than he intended, and realizes that he wants out of the game. Special Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), meanwhile, is slowly putting the pieces together on the bank job, and even brings Doug downtown just so he can introduce himself as the guy that will stop Doug once and for all. Doug wants nothing to do with Frawley or the ‘town (as in Charlestown, the roughest section of Boston), but James, not to mention their “employer,” local drug lord Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), are reluctant to let Doug walk away.
Affleck may have suffered a good decade at the ass end of a Matt Damon joke, but between this and “Gone Baby Gone,” he’s proven himself to be a very capable director. Yes, his aerial shots of Boston border on fetishistic, and he’s so faithful to the ‘hood that he lets his actors mumble their dialogue when studio protocol dictates that they enunciate for the sake of the audience. But he also coaxed good work from his cast – even Blake Lively, who played James’ drug mule sister, held her own – and the action sequences were fluid and taut, not the least of which was that car chase down some of the most claustrophobic streets of Boston. Think of it as “Ronin,” American-style.
The one thing the script gets right that most of these movies get horribly wrong is the relationship. Doug and Claire get time to breathe, to get to know each other, to fall in love, to fight. Whether she would have actually done in real life what she does here is anyone’s guess (real answer: probably not), but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility, either. Another smart move was to not paint the cops as crooked or above the law. We’re clearly meant to root for Doug and his friends, even though we know that they deserve to go down. Having Hamm’s character play by the rules only ups the ante on their game of cat-and-mouse. The ending is a bit of a puzzler, though; I could see pretty much all of it coming, except for the part that modeled “The Shawshank Redemption.”
While new ideas are obviously preferable to recycled ones, “The Town” proves that the well-worn path can still be a thrill, provided you have the right tour guide. The interesting thing will be to see what Affleck can do when he decides to make a movie outside of Boston. Assuming that ever happens, of course.