Monday, September 20, 2010
Director Ben Affleck has produced a remarkably self-assured and satisfying piece of work with The Town. Affleck returns to the low-end Boston where his Gone Baby Gone was set, and I can't help but wonder if all his films shouldn't be set in Charlestown even if he starts making musical comedies. The Town succeeds both as an action picture and a fascinating chamber drama, as Affleck clearly relishes the insular world of complicated relationships and unpayable debts that his setting provides.
Opening titles inform us of the frequency and hereditary nature of crime in Charlestown; Doug MacRay (Affleck) washed out as a hockey player and turned to the only other life he knew. (Doug's picture still adorns the wall of the local Boys & Girls Club.) The bank robberies carried out by Doug's crew are fast, efficient, and only as violent as they have to be. This is a life's work for Doug and his more dangerous friend James Coughlin, (Jeremy Renner makes a bid for the supporting actor Oscar.) and both men know that an arrest means prison and no plea bargains. Renner, all the more scary for not trying to be so, is the standout of an ensemble in cracking good form. Jon Hamm clearly relishes showing some non-Don Draper colors as FBI agent Adam Frawley, tasked with taking down the MacRay gang. The Town is in part a movie about class, and Hamm adds a layer of haughtiness to what could have been a cliched role. The key relationship in the movie is the one between Doug and Claire (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager and hostage he falls for. Claire is an outsider working and volunteering in Charlestown and her lack of ties to the neighborhood suggests a life Doug has no other access to. Contrast Claire with Krista (Blake Lively, a jolt of energy), Doug's boozy ex who represents a life of dive bars and dead-end jobs.
While on one level The Town is a "last job" movie, even that last job (a bravura heist of the Fenway Park cash room) is laced with reminders of how small a world the movie inhabits. A Fenway employee threatens Doug with jail guard friends as he's handcuffed, and the boss (a frightening Pete Postlethwaite) who plans the robbery can easily recall the fathers of Doug and James. Chris Cooper has one masterful scene as Doug's jailed father; whatever chance Doug has is one he'll have to make for himself. There is as much life in Doug as in the community garden where Claire volunteers. The Town, which announces Ben Affleck as a major director, and brushes up against American themes of family, community, and finally reinvention.