The Town (2010)

The Town sighs with weariness, in its opening heist, a sequence that should be bombastic, spectacular, unflinching and gripping. Instead, it’s somehow exhausting. This could be in part because audiences had just seen a similar heist weeks before (Takers) but also in part because the cues of action aren’t there. No rapid cutting, no shaky camera, no bombastic music.

For these thieves this isn’t some big bank heist but just another day at work. They’re professionals, perfectly coordinated and with a plan. They arrive at just the right moment for the timed lock on the vault, avoid the traced money and then bleach down every surface they might have touched before making the getaway Then, they abandon the getaway vehicle, leaving it burning in flames, not a trace of evidence to be found.

For these Boston born and bread boys, this isn’t simply a way of life but their heritage, sons inheriting the skills of their fathers. But Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), the mastermind of the group, doesn’t want to live up to the legacy of his father, Stephen (Chris Cooper), a cantankerous old man who still insists on doing everything the hard way.

In a lot of ways, Doug’s partner, James Coughlin, (Jeremy Renner), is like his father: loyal, dedicated but a bit of a loose cannon and unwavering in his determination. It’s James who gets the group into trouble when, in the opening heist, he beats up the manager of a bank and then takes one of the bank tellers, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage.

What James doesn’t suspect is that the bank teller would be from his neighborhood James wants to keep an eye on her in case she decides to squeal to the feds but Doug isn’t interested in having another innocent bystander get roughed up and decides to watch her himself. What starts as a simple case of your average everyday stalking grows into something a bit more complicated and involved.

The main premise of the film is a bit hokey and implausible. Having the hostage of someone later fall for him after the fact is a bit odd, but more than that, it’s somewhat hard to buy Doug as a character. He’s a bit too nice and a bit too honorable to be taken for a thief mastermind. Granted, a lot of the film is playing upon that duality but there certainly is a suspension of belief involved.

What makes it work is the performance of Ben Affleck. He’s an actor that has aged well over the years and he is able to exude that amiable and funny personality that makes him endearing. At the same time, there’s certainly a threatening sense he’s able to effectively convey and project outwards and he seems just as natural in his violent moments as any other moment.

Also particularly effective is the performance of Jeremy Renner. Loose cannons in films have a way of being overplayed in films, taking on comedic proportions. Renner brings a lot of that in, knowing just how much to project outward to make himself seem dangerous to everyone around him without going complexly bonkers. Part of it is in the small moments of loss of control amid what appears to be an average, everyday citizen.

As a crime drama/heist film, this is something that has been seen before with a lot of elements that are cliché, but the film develops every cliché so well it doesn’t matter that that audience has seen it all before. The film does waste the FBI subplot, but makes up for a lot of it with the fantastic performance by Jon Hamm.

By the conclusion, any lingering issues have faded. The film has its share and there certainly is a lack of originality but in terms of the power of its drama, the fantastic performances and overall execution, this film is exceptional. And the last moments seals it, an ending oddly atypical and world-weary, a fantastic bookend to the opening moments of the film.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing