California Literary Review

Movie Review: The Town

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September 18th, 2010 at 12:12 pm

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Movie Poster: The Town

The Town

Directed by Ben Affleck
Screenplay by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay
Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey
Jon Hamm as FBI S.A. Adam Frawley
Jeremy Renner as James Coughlin
Blake Lively as Krista Coughlin
Slaine as Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan
Owen Burke as Desmond Elden
Titus Welliver as Dino Ciampa
Pete Postlethwaite as Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm
Chris Cooper as Stephen MacRay

CLR Rating: ★★★★½

Movie Still: The Town

Jon Hamm as FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley and Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey in The Town
[Photo by Claire Folger]


An anxiety-inducing thriller with masterful performances and impressive screenwriting, ‘The Town’ likely signals Ben Affleck’s rise from the ashes.

There’s an old rumor that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck flipped a coin to decide which of them would play Will Hunting, the main character of their Oscar-winning script in 1997. Damon won this fabled coin-toss, and Good Will Hunting (Gus van Sant’s most popularly palatable movie thus far) was an indisputable success, thrusting Damon into stardom. Affleck has continued to take roles in mediocre-to-terrible films while Damon scored roles in the greats. Affleck turned to directing, and his previous directorial effort, gritty and wrenching Gone Baby Gone, was an Oscar contender. The actor is behind the camera again for The Town, another Boston based story of troubled-young-man-makes-amends. The movie is a suspenseful heist-romance with complex characters, brilliant action, and masterful performances. Affleck plays dual role of star and director, something seldom done well; nonetheless, The Town is easily one of the best movies of 2010. If all goes right, The Town will be for Affleck what Good Will Hunting was for Damon.

The Town is based in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston that’s produced more armored truck thieves and bank robbers than anywhere in the world. As the characters say, robbery has “become a trade, passed down from father to son.” Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his best friend Jim (Jeremy Renner) run one of the slickest theft operations in town, but then Doug finds himself drawn to bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), one of the only witnesses to their latest heist. With FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) breathing down everyone’s neck and Jim becoming increasingly reckless, Doug falls for Claire and his world starts to crumble. The Florist (Pete Postlethwaite) is the puppeteer commanding the Town’s dealers and thieves, and when Doug wants out he finds his friends, family, and life in danger.

This all screams “yet another Dennis Lehane story with complex characters and an A-list cast,” none of which is bad. But The Town manages to pull off riveting, nerve-racking action right along with the sweetness of a new romance. It presents the audience with cookie-cutter roles (the out of control bad boy, the good kid gone bad, the underworld kingpin, the desperate druggie) and grants them unexpected depth. It combines Hitchcockian suspense with Bourne Identity action, and the final product is enthralling.

Affleck as MacRay is scarred but loyal, a muscular but basically placid man who could beat you within an inch of your life but probably won’t—unless you mess with his friends. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner seethes with rage that threatens to boil over and scald, turning every encounter into a shootout or a brutal beating. Brit actress Rebecca Hall’s adorable smile lights up the screen; Claire’s inherent goodness is in her every movement. Pete Postlethwaite, with a sinewy physique like tough leather, makes even the simplest gestures horribly malicious. “Mad Men”’s Jon Hamm plays a completely different character from Don Draper, with whom his name is becoming synonymous; stubbly, sweaty, dingy, and coarse, Frawley is an agent with an agenda that won’t be deterred. Even “Gossip Girl”’s Blake Lively, playing completely against type as a trashy, drugged out young mother in denim miniskirts and polyester halter tops, turns in an excellent performance.

The screenplay, written by Affleck, Gone Baby Gone’s Aaron Stockard, and Peter Craig, plays out marvelously. The spectator (and anyone who’s seen the trailer) already knows MacRay was behind the Skeletor mask holding Claire hostage, but of course Claire has no idea, and dialogue dripping with subtext is enough to make you grit your teeth. Claire knows one of her kidnappers has a Fighting Irish tattoo on the back of his neck, and the tattoo is the elephant in the room, strumming on the nerves like the concealed corpse in Rope. Constant references to the characters’ parents (including Stephen MacRay, played by a baggy-eyed Chris Cooper) remind the audience of the ties our characters have to the world they inhabit. Most of all, due to terrific writing and Affleck’s emotive performance, you’ll find yourself rooting for the criminal. The movie ends with a symmetry that’s almost too simple, but the termination is not implausible or sappy.

Editor Dylan Tichenor juxtaposes shots to their maximum nerve-racking effect while DP Robert Elswit (who notably worked with Tichenor on P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood) frames each shot for utmost comfort or anxiety. In a chase scene through the narrow through-streets of old Boston, the camera careens around corners, barely dodging a crash at every turn. Claire’s scenes portray her against soft yellows, vivid flowers, and clean whites, whereas MacRay is enclosed by harsh fluorescents, brutally sharp wrought iron gates, and grimy cinder-block. The mise-en-scène and art direction place you squarely in the characters’ world.

2010 has not been a good year for movies, but The Town ought to beat its fellow openers this weekend. In spite of an ending that feels a little bit Shawshank Redemption, the action, acting, and screenwriting will keep you in your seat. Sometimes the best way to gauge a movie is by audience reaction, and in the theater, fellow moviegoers were muttering at the screen, cursing under their breath, and audibly moving and sighing at the end of tense scenes. The Town may signal Affleck’s rise from the ashes, might launch Lively’s actual film career, and boosts Renner’s chances for another Oscar nomination. On top of that, it’s a tense, smart, thriller that’ll make you realize, hey, there are still good movies out there.

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The Town Trailer

  • http://calireview.com Keta

    I loved the movie. However 2 hours after I saw it, I realized why. It is the white male version of the black female version “Set it Off.” Ben Affleck’s character was similar to Jada Pinkett Smith’s character as they both were the only survivors and left a new found love at the end. The other 3 male characters all died in similar fashions. One died in a vehicle, one on the street in a shoot out with the cops and one on the scene of a robbery. The FBI agent turns around and sees Ben leave in the police car. Jada is seen by the agent leaving on the bus at the end of “Set it Off.” I enjoyed both movies both they are very similar.

  • Nvry

    What did FBI Agent Adam Frawley say after he read the note on the car left by Ben Affleck’s character? I didn’t catch it but everyone was laughing at it. =(

  • Susanne Bennett

    I enjoyed this movie though my enjoyment was over-shadowed by the scene where Doug, Affleck’s character, pushes Krista, played by Blake Lively, against a wall, while her young daughter sits and watches. I found it out of character because Doug was not prompted physically to take this action, for example, unlike in his fight scene with Jim. I was less sympathetic to him and felt conflicted that he should be in a happy relationship with any woman after allowing Krista’s young daughter to witness this abuse. I also thought the significance of this violent scent was glossed over in the film; the motivations and actions to shove Krista are different from those for a shootout with cops or bank guards. I almost wonder if the significance, that Doug can be abusive on a personal level in an unequal match while not prompted towards self-defense, was not analyzed by Affleck, because he likely would have directed the scene differently.

  • mplo

    The Town is a piece of junk that’s full of old cliches and stereotypes that’re so obvious that it’s sickening.

    Come on now…everybody in Boston’s a rabid Red Sox Fan? Everyone in Charlestown’s involved in the bank robbery business? All law enforcement people are scummy jerks? All working-class Irish-Americans are criminals and low-life thugs and their women skanks?

    Really? Also, the whole idea of an angelic bank manager and her victimizer falling in love and sticking together despite the fact that Claire finally learns who Doug really is? Come on.

    This whole thing is too stupid, junky, cheesy and overrated for words.

  • mplo

    Is everybody really so naive or willfully stupid as to believe that the “Lima” Syndrome” (the inverse of the Stockholm Syndrome)-based relationship that arose between Doug and Claire was a normal, healthy thing? Come on now! No guy worth his salt would deceive a woman like that by pretending to be an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, when he’s really a professional armed felon and wanted fugitive. No woman worth her salt, either, would take up with a guy like that and then refuse to break contact with him after learning what he was really up to.

  • mplo

    Imo, The Town glorifies the worst, most sordid aspects of Boston’s history and conveys the message that pretty-looking people can do whatever they please and not suffer any real consequences for their actions and behaviors. Inotherwords, The Town conveys the message that it’s okay to commit crimes and be an accessory to crimes if people can get away with it, and that no one has to be held accountable for their actions and behaviors.

    One doesn’t have to be psychotic, hot-tempered and crazy like Doug’s friend, “Jem” was, in order to be a sociopath. Doug was a sociopath, cunning and skilled at guile, and he was playing Claire, who was either too naive or willfully stupid to realize that, so she took the bait and fell for Doug MacRay’s deceitful behavior towards her.

    The fact that Doug purchased an extremely expensive diamond necklace for Claire should’ve also provided Claire with a tip-off as to who Doug was and what he was really up to. Come on now! It’s highly unlikely that an average, everyday, ordinary white working-class Charlestown Townie would make the kind of money that would afford him the ability to purchase any women in his life something so expensive.

    Oh, and how can so many people miss the fact that Doug MacRay really wanted Claire to have the C-Town hockey rink renovated for the Townie kids because, being on the lam from the law due to being an armed felon and wanted fugitive would;ve landed him back in prison (where he belonged, of course). Inotherwords, Doug exploited Claire as a go-between.

    How can so many people have also missed the fact that Doug ultimately left Claire behind when he skipped town for Florida for the following reasons:

    A) Doug MacRay was an armed robber, thug, and murderer (he killed Fergie and Rusty) who was on the lam from the law, and he knew, at some level, that sooner or later, he’d be hunted down, caught (perhaps violently), and sent to prison, or possibly be gunned down by the law.

    B) Doug MacRay got what he really and truly wanted out of Claire; a promise to him not to turn him into the Feds, which she kept, especially when she tipped Doug off to the Feds’ presence in her apartment with a “sunny days” code. Imho, FBI Agt. Frawley should’ve instructed Claire not to answer Doug’s phone calls or call him, and made Claire keep her big, fat mouth shut and let the Feds do their assigned jobs of bringing Doug and his men down and end their crimes once and for all.

    All of the above having been said (including my above comments), I believe that there are at least three types of people who really like The Town:

    A) Very naive or willfully ignorant people, many of who are not from the Boston area, and are therefore unaware of Boston’s history.

    B) People who are from Boston, but who long for the more mean-spirited days of Boston’s existence.

    C) People who’re criminally inclined, or who’ve gotten into some sort of trouble with the law for whatever reasons and are therefore more likely to root for and sympathize with Doug MacRay and his posse, and for Claire, who became an accessory to Doug’s crimes when she refused to break it off with him even after learning who he really was.

  • mplo

    Susan Bennett:

    I beg to differ with you about the notion that physically pushing Krista against the wall of the hotel room wasn’t in Doug MacRay’s character. I think that it was more than likely in Doug MacRay’s character all along, and it came out at an opportune (or, to be more exact), an inopportune moment. Doug MacRay further revealed the kind of person that he really and truly is; a man of unprovoked violence against men and women alike.

  • MaPol

    I don’t know, Keta.

    The fact that The Town is asking the audience to root for Doug MacRay and his men, who are hard-core professional armed felons, who’ve not only robbed, assaulted and murdered people, but are wanted fugitives, as well as for Claire, who became an accessory to Doug’s crimes when she refused to sever all contacts with him after learning the truth about him through FBI Agt. Frawley, is one of the reasons that I disliked The Town so intensely.

    From what I understand, The Town is a rip-off of a number of better heist movies that’ve been slapped together. I never saw “Set it Off”, but that sounds like another movie that I don’t want to see, either. “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Bonnie and Clyde” are examples of far better movies of that particular genre.

  • MaPol

    That’s a good point, Susan. Frankly, I think that when Doug abused Krista and pushed her against the wall of the hotel room, in front of her young daughter, Shyne, yet, my lack of sympathy for Doug was re-inforced. The fact that Doug physically pushed Krista against the wall more than likely was in Doug’s character all along, and it came out at an opportune, or inopportune moment.

  • MaPol

    I realize that I’m giving The Town a rather scathing review/critique, but, imo, there’s far too much wrong with this film, and it fell way short of its potential for becoming a much, much better film than it is. The cast, with the exception of Jeremy Renner, is poor to mediocre at best.

    I can’t, in good conscience, buy into the idea (even though it’s fiction) of a (presumably) intelligent, educated woman who makes a decent income as a bank manager taking up and falling in love with a guy who turned out to be the leader of a band of armed robbers who’d been trailing her for weeks before he and his buddies knocked over her bank and then kidnapped her at gunpoint while wearing Hallowe’en masks, and, more to the point, refused to sever contact with him even after learning who he really was through the FBI Agent who was assigned to bring Doug MacRay and his men down.

    One would think that Claire would’ve been smart enough to size Doug MacRay up a bit when he asked her for a date, and therefore picked up a small clue as to what he was doing and who he was, especially after he purchased her that expensive diamond necklace. Come on now! It’s highly unlikely that an average, ordinary, everyday white working-class guy from Boston’s Charlestown section would make enough money to afford such an expensive gift for any women in his life. Claire should’ve sized him up first, instead of so readily accepting a date with some guy who’d just picked her up in a laundromat when she was in shock, frightened and thoroughly traumatized by the horrible experience that she’d just had. The creepy looks that Doug was giving Claire the whole time during their “chance” meeting in the laundromat should’ve also provided a hint to her that Doug was a shady character who was clearly up to no good.

    Sure, I may seem like a bit of an “old” prude, too moral and too judgemental for most people’s tastes, but that’s their problem. Claire was pretty enough to look at, but she was awfully gullable. The fact that Claire cenied seeing “Jem”s fighting Irish tattoo on the back of his neck to the Feds during her interview with Agt. Frawley, when in fact, she had, was also illegal, as was her tipping Doug off to the Feds’s presence in her house in the end, when they were literally on the verge of arresting Doug MacRay and sending him to prison for his crimes, where he belonged. Receiving stolen goods (Doug’s blood money) was also illegal. As some people say, one can lie to their friends, family and neighbors, but not to the Feds…at least not without some sort of repercussions.

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