DVD Catch-Up: The Town(1/14/2011)

            I try to see all the major movies that come out in theaters and write reviews of all of them, and then see the not-so-major movies on DVD.  Of course life gets in the way sometimes and the major movies need to wait for DVD.  The Town is just such a movie.  This was a very well received heist film with an impressive trailer and it was also Ben Affleck’s directorial follow-up to the flawed but promising Gone Baby Gone.  That’s definitely enough to drag my lazy ass out to a theater in most circumstances, but the month that movie came out was astonishingly busy for me, and it just didn’t work out.  Fortunately, DVD release windows are shorter than ever these days so I can still catch up with movies like this without much of a wait.

            The titular “town” in the movie is Charlestown, a blue-collar suburb of Boston known for the fact that many of inhabitants have become bank robbers.  As the film opens we see one such robbery, in which four men wearing skeleton masks burst into a bank wielding assault rifles demanding money.  They know what their doing and are able to bypass most of the bank’s security measures.  One of the robbers, who we’ll soon learn to be James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), violently demands the money and threatens to kill a hostage if a bank teller (Rebecca Hall) doesn’t quickly open the safe.  Another robber named Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) takes a softer approach and allows the teller to take her time with the combination lock.  The teller is then taken hostage as the robbers escape, but is released safely after they are out of harm’s way.  She is questioned by an FBI agent named Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) but leaves out a key bit of evidence for fear of the robbers.  Later she and MacRay meet in a Laundromat, he recognizes her but she doesn’t recognize him and a relationship is formed that could shatter if the truth came out.

            Consider that last development in the summery.  Does anyone believe that would really happen in real life at all?  Who in their right mind would really want to start a relationship with someone that you robbed a few days earlier and who could potentially identify you if you stick around longer?  That’s about the stupidest thing an otherwise expert thief could possibly do and there’s very little in the movie to explain why he would do this beyond some sort of movie logic that any time a man and a woman in a movie are both played by celebrities they must hook up.  In short, that’s a ridiculous premise to base a movie on and it takes a lot in order for me to get past it and enjoy the movie.

            Fortunately there’s a lot here to admire, particularly on a filmmaking and acting front.  Ben Affleck has not quite developed into a full blown auteur, but he does have a lot of skill behind the camera.  He shoots with a lot of confidence and he isn’t too quick to follow trends and fads.  He also knows how to cut an action scene pretty well, and there at least three very well executed set pieces here.  There are also a lot of small decisions here that improve the movie in interesting ways.  For example, the gang wears some particularly interesting skeleton masks in the opening heist and that improves the scene immeasurably.  The film also boasts a hell of an ensemble cast, led by Affleck himself who has done the Boston thing before and seems pretty confident doing it here.  He’s overshadowed though by some of his co-stars, particularly Jeremy Renner who is almost unrecognizable, he is completely different from how he looked and acted in The Hurt Locker.  Jon Hamm is also doing some decent work here and finally there’s also Rebecca Hall who makes for a pretty decent screen presence.

            All this makes for a pretty enjoyable crime film, but does it have anything to rise above its genre trappings?  Not really.  The movie sets up this study of the titular neighborhood, but goes nowhere with it.  It also operates on some sort of strange Hollywood morality scale in which we are supposed to root for Ben Affleck’s character just because he’s a little bit nicer than the people around him even if he’s just as complicit in their crimes.  That and my reservations about the Affleck/Hall romance make this a hard movie to really take seriously, but it is a fairly fun action movie that can make for an enjoyable watch.

*** out of Four

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