Friday, October 1, 2010

At a Theater Near You

By Chip Schrader
Movie Review Editor
Ben Affleck’s “The Town” opens with an aerial shot of Metropolitan Boston, and cuts to a busy street that is about to be the epicenter of a bank robbery. The masked villains charge inside the bank dumping Blackberries into a fishbowl to be drowned in water after the standard “get on the floor” commands. As a shaken Bank Manager named Claire Keesey tries to get the combination right, one of the robbers consoles her with a touch, reassuring her to take her time.
The thief with a delicate touch is Doug MacRay, played by Ben Affleck, who also shares the screenwriting credit for “The Town.” Doug is a lifer in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the Boston suburb famous for being a breeding ground for bank robbers, and like McKray, survives within the stranglehold of the Irish Mafia.
Afleck plays a gritty role with a strongly understated charm. But, from the first scene, we are dared to consider him to be the good guy, while the manipulative FBI agent and his felonious brotherhood are swimming in sleaze. The tough guys are out muscled by the women who often suffer at the hands of these men, namely Blake Lively’s portrayal of Christa Coughlin.
While the story is strong and engrossing, the romance that brews between villain and victim is ultimately forgettable. There are few clever lines or tender moments that convince viewers that MacRay and Keesey have any chemistry. The film at the forty five minute point holds a solid three and a half out of five rating carried by the acting and anticipation of the next action scene.
The turning point for the film is a car chase that follows an armored car heist. This chase scene rivals those from any Steve McQueen’s or Al Pacino’s film, and begins the neck breaking ride. The near misses and near hits are puzzling, brutal, and riveting. From here on, the audience is in the front seat with MacRay as his back story fills out to a complete character.
Many good films have twists, but the best films give you details that develop into sharp turns that are both logical and unexpected. MacRay’s life is a story that unfolds, it doesn’t twist, and his depths are endless as are the conflicted emotions of his love interest Keesey.
Every caper must end with a big heist. MacRay’s crew is slated to heist Boston’s crown jewel, Fenway Park. This coup de grace of heists presents one of the many elements in “The Town” where cinema hasn’t taken us. As the heist proceeds, there is much to go wrong, and old ties scorned. And the details that were once delivered as casual conversation turn into lynch pins that will make or break this plot of plots.
Bottom line. The romance, as stated was forgettable, it needed more memorable moments that brought MacRay and Keesey together, and to show more of Affleck’s charming side. The police had to take some stretching leaps to get their suspects, but this was a forgivable detail. Some of the supporting cast needed some entertaining quirks to reveal what makes them tick, and to bring some more lively dialog. However, the flaws really end there.
While the dialog doesn’t pop, it is realistic and it serves the story with staunch loyalty. The characters and imagery are dank and gray, but the story of Charlestown and its people is hardly rosy, so the muted colors and gritty shots fit the story. The action and suspense are so good they suffocate, and the conclusion just might be classic.
The story is tight and every scene has a purpose, there is no flab or filler to carry the film to two hours.Jeremy Renner’s Cagney-like portrayal of Coughlin adds some color, and the previously mentioned Blake Lively’s portrayal will draw attention to her as we might see her move closer to top billing in future films outside of the adolescent themed “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Gossip Girl” series.
As far as Affleck, he needs to keep the goatee shaved and ditch the schmaltzy Hollywood roles to write his own material suited to his stone face delivery. Hack job cinema like Armageddon and Gigli will not do Affleck justice. “The Town” will make every Ben Afleck naysayer reconsider, and may put the name “Gigli” out of their vocabulary once and for all.
Rating: 4 out of 5, and will likely get better ratings with multiple viewings.
Photo caption: Movie poster for Ben Affleck’s “The Town” (Courtesy photo)