I’ve always said that it’s a lot easier to write a review for a movie you either passionately love or passionately hate. Somehow the compliments (or insults) just roll out of you, and before you know it, you’ve got 2,000 words of sheer poetic movie-excitement.
But The Town is not one of those movies. Instead, it’s the kind of movie you appreciate and enjoy, but never really have any desire to revisit. It’s the kind of movie that has good character work and a tight script with lots of setup and payoff, but it really just doesn’t move you beyond that “take it or leave it” mentality.
Which is a shame. Because Ben Affleck’s second directorial effort boasts great acting, nice cinematography and, surprisingly, stirring action sequences.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you know the main thrust of the movie. Affleck plays Doug McCray, the leader of a group of bank robbers working in “the bank robbing capital of the world.” When he tails a hostage formerly kidnapped by the masked gang, he ends up falling for her. But an FBI task force led by Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, as well as an organized crime leader, are dead-set on making it difficult for Doug to protect the woman he’s fallen in love with or find his way out of the crime-centric city limits. And you’ve got Jeremy Renner playing the oh-so-familiar best friend/loose cannon/guy Doug owes his life to.
I guess what really doesn’t work is that all the material feels really familiar. Sure, the elements are shuffled around in a slightly different way, but it’s hard to believe you’re watching anything other than a standard hybrid heist/mob movie (with better developed characters than most).
What did kinda surprise me, though, was how all-out Affleck went with some of the action sequences. I usually think of Affleck as an actor’s director and an actor’s writer, providing long and pointed dialogue scenes and character-centric stories his actors can sink their teeth into. The Town most definitely fits that bill, but there are two or three sequences in the movie that totally break from that tight, character centric tone.
We’re talking huge gun battles and epic car chases here, including a moment where the gang has to outrun a slew of cops to try and cross a bridge before it gets shut down by the feds. And ya know what? It really worked, adding a blast of much-needed suspense to a movie that was threatening to get dragged down by its exposition of criss-crossing relationships and motivations. Does this sequence feel out of place? Sure. The tone is different and the energy startles you at first, but in the end I have to give props to a movie for trying to work…and work well…as both a straight drama and a heist flick.
What doesn’t work so well, however, are the obvious and convenient little plot points thrown in along the way. Charlestown (aka “the town”) has a youth ice rink that can’t afford ice. Ben Affleck is a washed out hockey star who briefly went pro. He also robs banks, giving him access to money. I wonder if any of this conveniently exposed information will come to play later in the film?
Plus there’s the incarcerated father, Doug’s missing mother, the “I saved your life once” backstory and a florist/crime boss who’s not too eager to let Doug out of the game. All of it seems a little too contrived. The script does its best to make everything work, and the actors really sell it, but these obvious story and backstory choices drag the film away from the stark realism it’s trying so desperately to achieve.
But did I enjoy watching it? Absolutely. It’s a well made spin on familiar material–highly flawed, but still good, nonetheless.
And with that–and the knowledge that such lukewarm reviews have a significant tendency to drag on too long and become insufferably boring–I’m off.
Oh, and one more thing. Ben Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms.