The Town is a frustrating film to me, but not because it’s a
bad movie. Far from it. The movie is very good in point of fact, it’s
just that there are so many little ways that it could have been so much
But first, the positive. This movie is visually stunning. In heists
and in action sequences — both of which this movie has in abundance —
the camera work is as difficult as it is vital. It’s imperative that the
editing and visuals be fast enough to keep the tension up but slow
enough that we can clearly see what’s going on. Fortunately, every shot
in this movie was perfectly set and every cut was expertly done. Even in
the film’s quieter and talkier moments, this movie never looks anything
less than superb.
The writing is also very good. The dialogue chops that got Ben
Affleck a writing Oscar are in full effect here. Every relationship pops
and pretty much every character is made wonderfully three-dimensional,
even if they only have a scene or two. The only exceptions to this rule
are the two bank robbers who aren’t played by Affleck or Jeremy Renner.
These two are half of a foursome that are supposed to be extremely tight
and we do see the four of them together on and off the job several
times. Yet these two are nowhere near as well-defined as our two stars.
Care to guess if they make it out of the movie alive?
Of course, there are a few plot holes here and there. I didn’t
completely get why Affleck wandered off during the climax and there’s a
car chase when I thought that our thieves were attracting way too much
attention when they should’ve been trying to blend in. Then we have
fully-clothed sex scenes, bottomless ammo clips, bulletproof vests that
completely stop point-blank rounds and gunshot wounds that aren’t nearly
as messy or fatal as they should be. Of course, I’m willing to let all
of that slide, since these distracting inaccuracies are only slightly
less old and ubiquitous than film itself.
As our leading actor, Ben Affleck does very nicely for himself. In
fact, there’s a particular storyline about his mother that I thought he
acted out especially well. As a director, Affleck surrounded himself
with a superlative cast, though they were all utilized to varying
degrees of quality.
For example, there’s Jeremy Renner. This guy plays a total maverick,
uncomfortable with even the thought of a “normal” life. Someone who
actively lives by the sword and fights to the day when he dies by it.
Now, where have I seen that
before? Seriously, there came a point in the movie when I thought
that I was watching the same character. That’s hardly a knock against
Renner, since he was extraordinary as William James and he does an
equally great job as James Coughlin. Still, I just know that he’s not a
one-trick pony and I’d like to see more from him. Maybe the guy should
play a superhero, that would be something new.
Then we have Jon Hamm as our antagonist from the FBI. I’m woefully
unfamiliar with his work as Don Draper, so I can’t say if this is
another “more of the same” situation, but his character here is a true
hardass. This is a man devoted to catching bad guys and unafraid to push
whatever painful buttons he can to make that happen. Even better is
that Hamm plays him as a heartless son of a bitch, but not so much that
he veers into pure evil. He could be a cruel motherfucker from one
perspective while simultaneously being a damn good cop from another.
It’s an amazing performance.
Aside from Rebecca Hall, who plays a serviceable romantic lead, the
rest of the cast is comprised of actors who don’t get nearly the screen
time they deserve. I can understand why Chris Cooper only got one scene,
since his character can only do so much while serving a life sentence,
but his appearance here is still pretty much a glorified cameo.
Next is Pete Postlethwaite, playing Affleck’s boss. You’d think that
would be an important role, right? Not from the amount of screen time he
gets. The guy gets one brief introductory scene before he completely
disappears, never to be seen again until the movie’s last third. Sure,
that’s enough time to establish the unfortunately-named Fergie as a
monster, but it still feels rushed.
Blake Lively’s character suffers from the exact same problem. One
quick introduction in the first act, then she disappears until the final
third. This is especially frustrating because during the third act, we
learn that Lively has been an item with Affleck for quite some time.
What’s more, she’s apparently been struggling to leave Charlestown just
as Affleck is, which is pretty much the theme of the entire movie.
Lively plays all of this wonderfully, making a three-dimensional
character out of pretty much nothing, which begs the question of where
she’s been for half the movie. Was her subplot left on the cutting room
floor or something?
Last but not least, there’s the ending. To put this as spoiler-free
as I possibly can, this film gets a happy ending. Affleck lives happily
ever after. The problem with this, to paraphrase another
fictional criminal, is that happily ever after isn’t for people
like Affleck. I understand that the film is about our hero leaving his
past of crime to find a better future, but completely forgetting that
past and all the baggage it entails is just inexcusable. Moreover, the
score for that ending is just horrid, turning the scene to schmaltz and
sealing the impossible certainty that Affleck will someday die
Don’t get me wrong: The Town is a very good movie, but it had
the potential to be a great movie and it isn’t. I’ll also admit that I
haven’t read the
book this movie is based on, so I don’t know how many of my
complaints against the movie are actually against Chuck Hogan. In any
case, Affleck has established himself as a very potent behind-the-scenes
talent. He shows wonderful visual prowess, great skill for dialogue and
a superb knack for casting. I can’t wait to see what he does next,
provided he works on his story pacing.