‘The Town’ is crippled by its own fairytale desires

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: “The Town” is a film that is crippled by its own fairytale desires. While the picture pertains to be a character-driven drama about a Boston bank robber and his desire to go straight, it is undone by a refusal to even acknowledge that its lead character has anything to truly atone for. It is one thing to have a sympathetic portrait of an anti-hero as he struggles to be decent in a world that values his indecency. But it is another to take a straight-up criminal and convince us that he is actually some kind of hero. As a result, the key relationships don’t work, the action scenes lack suspense, and the audience is left with no reason to care about the outcome.

A token amount of plot: Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is a brains behind a four-person robbery team that operates in Boston. During their most recent bank job, the hothead of the team, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), takes manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage for the getaway. Although she is released unharmed, Keesey is emotionally shaken from the experience, and James gets spooked when it turns out that she’s from the neighborhood. Fearing bloodshed if James pokes around, Doug offers to inquire as to whether Claire is a danger to their unit. But complications ensue when Doug and the unknowing Claire fall in love, which leaves Doug even more determined to leave the life behind. But can he balance his newfound romance with his loyalty to his neighborhood? And what will become of him when FBI agent Adam Fowley (Jon Hamm) closes in on the tightly knit team?

At its core, “The Town” is a well-acted, and somewhat well-written variation on the ‘but he cries at opera’ genre. Affleck’s Doug may be a brutal and theoretically murderous armed robber, but it’s okay because he has dimples and protects his new girlfriend from threats old (he puts on a mask and attacks her cat-calling neighbors) and new (James isn’t thrilled when he finds out that his pal is dating an eyewitnesses to their crime spree). Nevermind that his inexplicable romance puts Claire in further danger from both his fellow criminals and from a suspicious FBI, it’s okay because well, he’s oh-so conflicted and felt bad about the initial hostage-taking.

Further contrivance comes in the character of Claire herself, especially when contrasted with the only other major female in the film. Claire is portrayed as a perfect upper-class woman, someone who donates her time to kids, tends her garden, wears nice suits, and keeps her hair perfectly done even for a trip to the laundry mat. The other woman in Doug’s life is Krista (Blake Lively), James’s drug-addicted sister who looks shot-to-hell at all times, has a daughter with an unknown father, and still pines for Doug at every opportunity. Yes, the two women are supposed to represent the big choice that Doug has to make (a new life versus his old one), but Claire is so perfect and Krista is so flawed that the virgin/whore dynamic is more than a little discomforting.

Aside from the gender issues and the fantasy elements in play, the film is itself a pretty generic heist picture. There is the usual opening job that establishes the thieves and their opposition (Jon Hamm’s FBI agent is the only truly adult character in the picture, and his blunt authority is a highlight). We have the mid-film heist, although said sequence really has no impact on the rest of the film (it’s not a game-changer in any real sense of the narrative), it’s just there to have an action scene between the opening and the climax. I certainly won’t spoil how the film climaxes, but I will say you can probably guess with 95% accuracy how the finale goes down. While the second act chase is well staged, there is next to no suspense in any of the elaborate chases and gunfights since we know that Affleck and his crew can’t murder anyone lest Doug become less of a sympathetic bank robber (it’s not for lack of trying, Doug and his crew are just really bad shots).

Like last year’s “Public Enemies,” we are asked to root for a serial criminal purely because he had a crappy childhood, is played by a handsome movie star, and treats his new girlfriend with a token amount of respect. And like that Michael Mann misfire, the most engaging portion of the film is spent with the law enforcement side, as Jon Hamm is a perfect mix of movie star scenery-chewing and realistic character-acting. Jeremy Renner does good work as the tightly-wound tough guy on the crew, and his bitter cynicism is a nice antidote to Doug’s pie-in-the-sky fairytale ideas. Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper turn in glorified cameos, although only Cooper has an actual scene to play (Postlethwaite is the mustache-twirling baddie who threatens Doug’s new damsel).

Blake Lively does what she can, but her character is such a contrivance that all that’s left is her outfit and giant earrings. It’s saddening that this genuinely solid actress’s portrayal of stereotypical lower-class trash is being hailed as an acting-breakthrough (oooh… she looks uglier, that must be ACTING), as if her spirited work in “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” or “The Private Lives of Peppa Lee” wasn’t proof enough that she’s more than her looks. Rebecca Hall gets some solid emotional moments, but her character quickly becomes a prize to be won, and its telling that we never see her outside of her interactions with Affleck or Hamm. Ben Affleck himself turns in a rote star turn, but he directs himself in so many soulful closeups, allows himself so many gratuitous glamor moments (he actually has a shirtless workout montage), and gives his character so many excuses and moral cop-outs that the film becomes an exercise in ego.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.

Follow Hollywood News on Twitter for up-to-date news information.

Hollywood News, Hollywood Awards, Awards, Movies, News, Award News, Breaking News, Entertainment News, Movie News, Music News

About HollywoodNews.com

Doing our best to bring you "The Pulse of New Hollywood®." Follow us @hollywoodnews

Follow us

Breaking Hollywood News   



  • September 21, 2010 | Permalink |

    Did you even see the movie? You are inaccurately describing scenes from the movie. And why is it that every movie must follow your guidelines or be put in to a genre that meets your standards? And why does a movie need to have a point? You’re misguided in you analysis of this movie and way off on your conclusion. Where in the movie does it tell you that we should want Affleck’s character to be a good guy or a bad guy? And at the end of the day how do you define a good or bad guy? In the real world there is a fine line separating the good from the bad and the line is always subjective to say the least. This movie was well edited, well written, and beautifully acted and directed. Ben Affleck makes Michael Mann and Martin Scorsese look like amateurs. How anyone can compare this movie to Heat or The Departed is beyond me. Those movies are overrated and over directed to the point where the story becomes convoluted and distorted. Those movies end up becoming cinema pieces for big name actors to get some cameo time with other big names to try and force movie goers to assume it an instant classic. And idiot there is no forced choice when it comes to the women, Doug never wanted to take Blake Lively’s character away with him and it was always his intention to leave. What movie were you watching? What would make it a heist movie that isn’t generic Einstein? Get a real job

  • December 20, 2011 | Permalink |

    I agree with the viewpoint here expressed about The Town, Robert. It’s an extremely overrated film, with underdeveloped characters and an implausible story.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.