The Town reviews

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Damien
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Postby Damien » Wed Sep 29, 2010 11:23 pm

I think that Gone Baby Gone was one of the most accomplished directorial debuts in ages -- its sense of melancholy was palpable, its rendering of moral ambiguity especially memorable -- so I was greatly looking forward to The Town. Unfortunately, Ben Affleck's second film is thoroughly conventional. It's well-crafted, butt there's nothing here that hasn't been seen before. The area in which there was room for the mysterious -- the budding romance between Affleck and Rebecca Hall goes nowhere and comes across as insipid and fairly silly. The best thing about the picture is Affleck's performance -- probably his most charismatic work since Shakespeare In Love.

5/10
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Postby Sonic Youth » Fri Sep 24, 2010 8:12 pm

I've barely posted about movies this year, because I've been actively irrated by nearly everything I've seen. Even the "quality" films have had something that annoyed me for some reason, and left me questioning whether I should just make movie-going a half-dozen-a-year activity. Maybe it's my overall mood, maybe I'm just pretty much done with movies. I'm reading and going to the theatre more, and I'd just as soon stay home with a book than go to a movie. The only films this year I've thoroughly enjoyed with few reservations were "The Ghost Writer", "Toy Story 3", "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and a fourth to be named later because I hope to write about it in the 2010 thread.

No, "The Town" isn't that fouth film, but it's a decent enough night's out entertainment and I'm sure that if Affleck doesn't get stuck in a career-long rut of competance-plus, he may prove to be capable of great things. (Either option seems very likely at this point.) I hope for the best, but especially after "Gone Baby Gone", "The Town" left me unsatisfied. Saying, as Wells does, that it's "professionally done" is an unfair backhanded compliment because there is a true filmmaker's personality at work here, at least in spots. This is most evident in the Boston location settings. Affleck doesn't shoot the city he so clearly loves like a travel brochure, but instead finds other ways to capture its essence. Like the gang members, Affleck appears to know the streets intimately, and the landmarks are intriguingly shot as backdrops to the action at hand. (As someone who also loves Boston, I much appreciated this.) The three sustained heist-action setpieces are surprisingly elaborate, and I never got the feeling he was channelling Scorsese or somebody.

But other than those action sequences, "The Town" felt like it was shot under a very strict deadline. Affleck's juggling too many subplots for any one of them to fully work, so the alternating violent and delicate passages don't come off. Blame the screenplay, I guess. Much of it should have been cut. I disagree with Sabin's take on the Affleck-Hall relationship. This potentially fascinating relationship should have been the film's central focus - and would have been if this were a Hitchcock film - but all too often it's shunted aside to make time for Affleck's mommy issues, gang interactions and police procedurals. The result is that nothing is satisfactorily developed. But the film has flair and impact, and that's what people are responding to. But it could have been so much more.

As for Affleck-the-actor: I've been hard on him in the past, but here he's finally found a director he can work with to his advantage... himself. I've always found Affleck either characterless or struggling too hard to make his line deliveries come off as natural. But I don't think I've ever seen him as relaxed as I have here. He's comfortable and fully in control. That doesn't mean he's not miscast. When he's in disguise as a 'T' (mass transit) employee, he looks exactly what he really is: a movie star in disguise, with not a trace of the working class emnating from him. Still, it's a step forward, and I hope he can continue to improve.




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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Sep 24, 2010 5:58 pm

Sabin wrote:The problem is that Affleck cuts his character way too much of a break. He's basically a dirty guy who doesn't deserve to escape. But the dictates of a big-studio crime film say otherwise.

SPOILER ALERT

This part of Wells' review I truly don't comprehend. I was, in fact, presuming Affleck's character was a goner, once he started free-firing at the FBI. I'm astonished a big studio film allowed such a character to get away.

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Postby Mister Tee » Fri Sep 24, 2010 5:50 pm

The Town is almost a mirror image of Gone Baby Gone. The latter was weakest in its genre moments -- the bungled hilltop handoff was almost incoherent -- but made up for it with an inventive plot-line and sharply observed characterizations, both of individuals and the community. The main plot of The Town is far more routine, centered on a love story that has no reason for existing other than providing a narrative engine, and the backstory and characters are of considerably less interest (the whole "what happened to McCray's mother?" strand of the plot is awkward from start to finish).

But...as a genre piece, this film works better, with three big action set pieces (conveniently placed at the start, middle and climax), all of which are far superior to what we saw in the earlier film. (Are Dylan Tichenor and extra-crediter Christopher Rouse the reason?) And the story plays reasonably well, despite having little of the emotional resonance or memorable performances of Gone Baby Gone. I'd agree Jon Hamm is the standout; Rebecca Hall does better than you'd imagine with a useless role; Jeremy Renner is fine but has to watch he doesn't fall into loose-cannon type-casting; and, speaking of that, isn't it time Chris Cooper played something besides a hard-ass?

All tolled, an OK two hours (probably a bit too long, there). I'm sure it says something about me and contemporary culture that this film is massively more popular than Gone Baby Gone but I prefer the latter's nuances to this one's narrative neatness.

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Postby Okri » Sun Sep 19, 2010 7:18 pm

Pretty much, though I think I liked the leading performances slightly more. Not enough to defend the choices made, though.

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Postby Sabin » Sun Sep 19, 2010 7:09 pm

I kind of agree with Wells. The Town is fine. It never dives into its characters. I never felt like what I was watching was real or that anything was at stake. It awkwardly tightropes between pseudo-Departed "realism" and maudlin star-turn romance. But it's reasonably entertaining with some real thrills here and there, and only intermittently dull. I think the real problem is Ben Affleck's inability to make complex acting choices. Rebecca Hall fairs somewhat better in execution if not conception with her boring boring boring love interest role. She makes Claire credible but I don't think there's an actress alive that could breathe life into this relationship. The two of them together are deadly, and the film never really recovers. It becomes Nicholas Sparks' The Town.

The supporting cast are all pretty darn good. Affleck excelled at directing Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman past the innate cliches of their roles, and he does the same with Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite with their glorified walk-ons. Jeremy Renner does a good Cagney. His final scene is a mini-marvel. Blake Lively, whom I've never seen act before, is also quite good. The MVP IMO is Jon Hamm, immediately credible in a non-Don Draper role. How far he can stretch without immediately calling Mad Men to mind, I don't know, but were this his first role, I would be just as impressed. He has the best lines and he knows just how to sell them. He's the best kind of "listen, fuckface" square, and the film immediately regains its wit and footing when he's on-screen.

It's just a fairly watchable mess. I loved the opening bank robbery heist with the sound masterfully dipping out to cut to surveillance footage. And there is a fantastic moment of the gang almost in the clear from a heist only to face an unassuming lone cop who wants no part of this bullshit.
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Postby Mister Tee » Thu Sep 09, 2010 9:02 pm

Wells is even odder than usual lately. He seems to have settled into this mode of deciding yea or nay on a film prior to seeing it -- basing it on trailers, publicity material, release dates...or what he'll label a vibe. It seems the natural progression for the truly demented Oscar blogger (no one here falls into that category): the anticipation process is so great that the actual film has gone beyond anti-climactic all the way to irrelevant.

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Postby Sabin » Thu Sep 09, 2010 8:30 pm

Jeffrey Wells is no great barometer of quality. Especially considering that his ballasted his assertions of Inception's grandeur with statements like "I'm man enough to be down with it." (or something; dork.). But he's not blown away by The Town.


Bad Boys

Ben Affleck's The Town (Warner Bros., 9.17), which I saw early this afternoon, never made me miserable. It's "professionally done" for the most part, but I did lose faith in it early on. It's not what I'd call a mediocre thing, but it's certainly not what anyone would call a believable crime flick -- certainly not in terms of how a decent, open-hearted bank-employee girlfriend (as played by Rebecca Hall) could be expected to respond to a nice, open-hearted felon (Affleck) with serious mother issues who's looking to escape the criminal fastlane.

It's reasonably handled in most respects, but The Town doesn't begin to compete in the realm of other distinctive Boston crime flicks. It's nowhere near the level of The Departed. It's not as good as Affleck's own Gone Baby Gone. It's certainly no Mystic River. And it sure as double-shit is no Friends of Eddie Coyle. (Don't even fucking mention that 1973 Peter Yates film in the same breath.)

The problem is that Affleck cuts his character way too much of a break. He's basically a dirty guy who doesn't deserve to escape. But the dictates of a big-studio crime film say otherwise.

But I don't want to put it down too severely. The Town has its moments. There are three (four?) thrilling heist sequences, and one high-throttle car chase. The performances are generally better than passable. Jon Hamm plays an unusually nervy cop; Jeremy Renner does an above-average job as a self-destructive psychopathic dog. Robert Elswit has done a very good with the photography as far as this sort of thing goes. It ain't art but it's high-end functionalism. It's basically a whaddaya whaddaya okay fine whatever.




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Postby Mister Tee » Wed Sep 08, 2010 6:32 pm

Thumbs up, from Variety.


The Town

By JUSTIN CHANG

The behind-the-camera talent Ben Affleck displayed so bracingly in "Gone Baby Gone" is confirmed, if not significantly advanced, in "The Town." Again proving a fine director of actors (this time with himself in a starring role), Affleck delivers another potent, serious-minded slice of pulp set on Boston's meanest streets, where loyalty among thieves runs thicker than blood. But while it pulses with atmosphere, this tale of grand larceny, unlikely romance and betrayal sacrifices some of "Baby's" troubling ambiguity and emotional force in pursuit of broader, more action-driven appeal. Results should bag Warners an appreciably large payday in wide release.

From Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" to the Dennis Lehane adaptations "Mystic River" and "Gone Baby Gone," the past decade has been a strong one for pictures set in and around certain violent enclaves of Boston. Without skimping on the flavorsome accents, pungent atmosphere and fatalistic undertow that come with the territory, "The Town," with its suggestion of the possibility of escape from a life of tribally ordered violence, represents a slightly more optimistic example of this crime-movie subgenre.

Based on Chuck Hogan's novel "Prince of Thieves," the film informs us at the outset that Charlestown, Mass., though only one square mile in size, has produced more bank robbers and armored-car thieves than any other part of the U.S. One of these is cool-headed Doug MacRay (Affleck), who -- along with his screw-loose best friend, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), and two other partners -- pulls off the efficient, unnerving bank job that opens the picture. The sequence is distinguished by its fastidious attention to detail, from the bandits' use of bleach to remove DNA traces to the ghoulish masks they wear, and ends with an agitated James taking bank employee Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, only to release her, unharmed, after a few hours of driving.

An FBI team led by Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) quickly fingers the four crooks -- all repeat offenders who have skillfully evaded capture -- but struggles to find evidence that will make a conviction stick. Meanwhile, in the story's most intriguing development, James' ongoing paranoia about how much Claire saw leads Doug to seek out the traumatized young woman; after some awkwardness in a laundromat meet-cute, Claire warms to this handsome stranger, unaware he's the same guy who coaxed her into cracking open a vault.

It's not hard to see why Claire would be charmed by Doug; we're charmed by him, too. That speaks well of Affleck's natural likability but leaches some complexity and danger from his conception of this supposedly hardened but terribly romantic criminal. By contrast, Renner's James seethes with barely repressed violence; his reaction to seeing Doug and Claire together for the first time has an edgy, unpredictable tension the picture as a whole could use more of.

And so the love of a good woman becomes the catalyst for Doug's decision to ditch his life of crime, but Charlestown doesn't surrender its own easily, and neither James nor their rigid crime boss, Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), intends to let Doug make a clean getaway. Doug's efforts to extricate himself from his bloody destiny -- inherited from his father and tied to a childhood trauma that doesn't feel dramatically well integrated -- power the film's eventful second half, during which the team attempts two more armed robberies, leading to explosive standoffs with the police and the FBI.

If Doug already seems too far down the road to redemption to lend "The Town" much traction as a character piece, it has outstanding virtues as a straightforward crime procedural. As in "Gone Baby Gone," Affleck conveys the ferocity of violence onscreen without resorting to gratuitous excess, and the frenzied gunplay of the multiple action sequences -- aided by Robert Elswit's rough-and-ready cinematography and Dylan Tichenor's agile editing -- strikes an ideal balance between kineticism and clarity.

Pic has a real feel for the neighborhood and uses it inventively; a car chase at the midway point derives much of its impact from the claustrophobia of Charlestown's narrow lanes and high walls. Local slang peppers the tangy script (credited to Affleck, his "Baby" co-scribe Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig), which revels in the sort of satisfying monologues and well-timed comebacks that tie it to an older, more classical storytelling tradition.

Hall, a sympathetic presence from the get-go, is eventually sidelined in a role that grows more conventional as the film proceeds, while "Gossip Girl's" Blake Lively, almost unrecognizable here, has fierce, pained moments as the moll and single mother Doug has tossed aside. Postlethwaite, wrapping his lips around an Irish accent, radiates a sadistic malevolence, and Chris Cooper makes a brief, somewhat pro-forma appearance as Doug's father, emerging from the shadow of a jail cell to impress upon us the steep price of a life of crime.


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