Wednesday, December 8, 2010
The Town ***
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall
Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver, Slaine, Pete Postlethwaite
Who would've guessed that in his directing Ben Affleck would manifest all the straightforwardness he fails to present in his redundant work as a thespian? The Town is barely his second directorial effort and already he's developing what could be called a style. Of course Affleck's style is highly influenced, if not directly extracted, from the work of Clint Eastwood (the cinematography and sense of in-justice) and Martin Scorsese (the seductiveness of crime as a lifestyle) but with this and Gone Baby Gone he seems to have mastered what it takes to deliver a no-bullshit film in what can be referred to as a "classic style".
His film is straight out of this universe where crime is the only kind of life and the one everyone's trying to escape. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a career criminal who falls in love with Claire (Hall), the bank manager he takes hostage after one of his gang's heists gets threatening.
In Claire, Doug sees the perfect way to atone for his sins while giving himself a second chance. Of course this threatens the stability of his gang as his friend James (Renner) begins to resent Doug for wanting to leave and they also end at the mercy of the local kingpin (Postlethwaite).
The Town has all the makings of a movie we've seen countless times, or at least to come from the same place where these movies have come from. There's also an FBI agent, keen on catching the criminals and even a femme fatale, in the shape of Lively's Krista, a woman who had an affair with Doug and is reluctant to see him move on.
It seems that every element and every character in the film are trying to drag Doug down with them and in a way it's fascinating to see how Affleck manages to make us sympathize with this character who is unarguably guilty of several crimes. Yet we find ourselves rooting for him to succeed in his relationship with Claire for example and in the bloody climax we still have an idea of him as some sort of hero.
The film boasts an impressive cast and all of them deliver efficient work. The seriously underrated Hall gives Claire the complexity needed to empathize with her even when she makes strange choices, Hamm is superb, even if nothing is really demanded of him other than to look heroic and use the hell out of his Superman looks and Cooper is fantastic in a single scene.
Renner gives the film's best performance as he creates a character that's as real as he's cinematic. James is one part Method acting, two parts hybrid between James Cagney and Richard Widmark. He's electrifying!
In the biggest setpieces he seems to be fueling the energy from within his body and you can not take your eyes off him even as he commits the most gruesome acts of violence.
It has to be said that Affleck is a master at action sequences, there isn't a single action scene in this movie that feels lacking or unnecessary. They are executed with such precision and stamina that you believe they are recreations of things we might've seen on the news.
If he fails a bit with the most intimate scenes, it only means that he's still finding his niche (there are several red herrings that feel more like plot holes than Hitchcockian techniques) but for all that matters, The Town is nothing if not promising.