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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: The Town (2010)

The Town is an absolutely stunning and tragic heist film centering on two Boston bank robbers.  Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay, a level-headed and patient thief.  Jeremy Renner’s James Coughlin, on the other hand, is a violent, hot-headed villain.  The two are life-long friends who run together in a single job at a bank that changes things forever.  They are forced to improvise when a silent alarm is hit and the crew decides to take a hostage to ensure escape. 

That hostage is Claire (Rebecca Hall) who is released but traumatized by her ordeal.  After a brief time passes, Doug meets her again, this time unmasked and they begin to develop an unintended relationship.
The already complicated scene becomes even more dangerous when an F.B.I. agent named Adam Frawley (John Hamm) begins to pursue the crew of bandits. 

From beginning to end, the Town is a excellent film.  It is filled with thrills and tragedy and the three main performances by Affleck, Renner and Hall are perfect.  Affleck, in particular gives what could be the best performance of his career.  Doug MacRay is a pained man with a sorrowful past and a heartbreakingly unshakable devotion to his childhood friend, Jim.  Jim is adversely wicked, seeking violence rather than trying to avoid it.  Where Doug’s pain is a menace to him, Jim wields it as a weapon, unleashing his hatred on his victims.  Rebecca Hall’s performance, as Claire, in this film is a wonderful balance.  Doug embraces her as a respite from the violent life he feels himself trapped in and, out of what could be love, or maybe genuine and understandable guilt, he is drawn to her, and when his true identity as one of her captors is revealed, he is willing to throw everything away for a chance to be part of her life.

Affleck is really, on most occasions, only an okay actor.  However, he is an utterly spectacular writer and director, his previous credits including Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting.  He really could go on to be the next Martin Scorsese if he focused on filmmaking rather than being a movie star.  Each scene in the Town is very well constructed and framed, and the action, which in most films tends to be sloppy and difficult to follow, is filmed with a certain focus.  It feels chaotic but is it is technically structured and well-timed.  This is a credit to Affleck’s ability to manage a scene and really elevates the Town to what could be the best action film of the last ten years, even though the action is not a dominate part of the film. 

The second half of the film features a particularly well done action scenes complete with two tense major stunts: one involves an ambulance violently colliding with an armored car and the other features an armored vehicle flipping as it falls into a parking lot.  These are so obviously technical, but so well executed that they seem more like a news reel rather than a film clip.  We feel the weight of the vehicles as they collide and crush and the moments bring a sort of pause.  They each last all of about fifteen seconds a piece and they are both utterly breathtaking. 

The Town is proof that you do not need a gimmick, CGI, or any over-the-top excess to achieve perfection in the action genre.  I, personally, found the Town a hundred times more tense, more menacing and more exciting than any cheesy camp-fest starring the Rock, Jason Statham or Jet Li released over the past decade or so.  This is because the lack of the unrealistic stupidity found in most films of its genre makes the risk feel real, which makes you fear that anyone could be executed in this film’s more violent scenes.  This expendability is part of the true thrill, and if that is absent, and we know the hero is invincible, the trills are empty, relying more on how we react to the visuals than the action itself.  In the Town it is not inconceivable that any of the leads could be killed off at any time, and that is a terrific achievement in the mood of the film.

The Town is one of the best films of 2010, one of the best films of any of its star’s careers, and one of the most powerful stories I have seen from Hollywood in quite some time.  It is not a downer, instead, it feels like a reality check.  The characters’ tragedies are highlighted the painful and angry way in which they execute their armed assaults on their various targets, and this pain and anger haunts the characters outside of their criminal lives.  The characters all seem bound to each other, connected, and the fear of losing any of them is a constant looming element of the story.  If you have not seen this film yet, do seek it out.  It is a stunning achievement in cinema, the first one, probably, since Slumdog Millionaire.

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