I'm using this thread to promote discussion of Ben Affleck's newly released film, The Town, though if people eventually want to take it to the Award Season thread
as it winds down, be my guest.
And, as always, spoilers.
The Town is Affleck's second directorial effort, the first being his very good Gone Baby Gone, and even as proficient was Affleck showed himself to be in that film, The Town shows a great deal of professional maturity in the contexts of pacing, editing, and cinematography. Unfortunately, an anemic script filled perilously full with cliches and muddled characterizations undoes what had a legitimate shot at being one of the year's best films.
This kind of film is always difficult to pull off in any kind of realistic context, as basically it's the tried and true story of The Criminal with a Heart of Gold. The archetype has worked many times over the years, but is almost always played outside of any kind of reality because, on paper, the character doesn't make that much sense. You can't really be a smooth, intelligent, witty ladykiller when your job is bank stick-ups and shooting up armored cars, especially if you grew up a poor blue-collar kid from the slums of a big city. It goes two ways: you can be Thomas Crowne, or you can be Henry Hill, but you can't really be both. This is the major failing of the film, for as it progresses everyone's motivations become more and more strained.
Another point of contention is several of the character's development. While Affleck pulls fine performances from everyone involved, three fairly important characters are relegated to being merely plot motivators. Here's a tip: if Blake Lively, Jon Hamm, or Pete Postlethwaite is on-screen, pay attention because they're going to say something important to the plot (and little else). Ms. Lively gets the worst of this, as her character's raison d'etre is entirely served by being a third-act plot device.
Hamm doesn't get much better treatment, as his solid acting work is undone by the fact that all he seems to do is answer the phone and tell people things like, "Set up a perimeter!" His character is fairly muddled, to boot; in one scene we see him badly beat a low-level pusher for some info, the rest of the film he plays the white-knight of the FBI. There's no real insight or motivation to this man, other than perhaps he just likes being good at his job. Sadly, Hamm and Affleck share only one scene together, but it's a good one.
Jeremy Renner delivers a fine performance, though nothing exemplary, and also falls into a common archetype in this subgenre: the dangerous friend that the hero sticks with for no good reason. Renner is the loose cannon, newly freed from prison and can't wait to get in on the action that Affleck has promised him, but apparently has the patience of a toddler in time-out. It's not but a few days after a very profitable robbery that Renner is already breathing down Affleck's neck about the next score.
This film has already been described by another critic as being "Heat meets The Departed," and aptly so, but The Town shares a common flaw with the latter, as both films feature an egregiously preposterous romance. While The Town's version isn't nearly as unbelievable as Scorsese's, it does suffer from being rushed, where in naught but a few days the young woman Affleck took as a hostage in a robbery falls head over life-risking heels in love with him . . . . all before the dramatic reveal that he's really her former captor, natch. It's the element that works least in the whole film, and it's sad to see because apparently the script can only see women as chess pieces for the heroes and villains to move around, kicking the plot into gear.
The third act devolves into yet another studio film where everything is settled with a massive shootout and all the loose ends are tied up nice and neat, generally by just killing people associated with them. There's a strange C-plot running through the film about Affleck's relationship with his imprisoned dad and the fate of Affleck's mother, which is brought up early and then gets completely ignored until the very end when the villain inexplicably fills in all the (weird) details regarding his parents in a convoluted attempt to leverage Affleck into doing One Last Job for him.
To bring all of this together, I will be kind and say that this film probably punches above its weight-class. It's a script sorely in need of expansion and revision, but the actors in play are delivering some very good work, the pacing is tight and engaging, and Affleck's direction is assured and maturing. With lesser talent, this film plays out like a bad episode of one of those shitty, shitty cop shows, like Law & Order, CSI, SCIS, Cold Case, The Closer, or whatever, take your pick. But this film has solid talent, and therefore makes the jump to solid entertainment.
It's a shame this film wasn't better, as I was really looking forward to the first big studio film shooting for an Oscar, but sadly this likely won't be it, or at least I hope not. Still, go out and see it, and enjoy a solid crime film from a director that bears keeping a close eye on. Affleck is on pace to get his second Oscar; this just isn't the winning ticket.