• The Town

    The Town

    (Watched this via Netflix streaming. - NB)

    I likes me some heist flicks. And not the pretty-boy, neato-technology crap that Hollywood seems intent on distributing. I’m talking about mean plots and desperate people, where the money isn’t what’s on the line - people’s humanity is. That sort of pathos-y stuff. Character-driven stories of violence and catharsis. And The Town is that kind of good heist flick. So you can understand my surprise to see it directed and starring Ben Affleck.

    Proving that Gone Baby Gone was no fluke Affleck stays close to the same sort of moral character play. Set in a historically-troubled neighborhood in Boston the film’s story follows Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his team of bank robbers. The only standout there, though, is devoted psycho Coughlin (Jeremy Renner - seriously, is this guy ever not good?). Like the town they live in the two share a troubled past and present and don’t look toward the future much.

    Their crew is menaced by the feds, specifically Agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm, showing a bit of range here, yet again), after one witness/victim to a bank job gets noticed by MacRay. He checks in on bank teller Claire (Rebecca Hall), to potentially take care of her talking to the feds. But, while doing so, he gets too close to her and starts to ponder a more positive future. Their ensuing romance calls to mind the tragic romantic balance of Magnificent Obsession or Le Samourai. They really end up building something good despite Coughlin’s misgivings and Frawley’s suspicions. But MacRay knows the whole time that he’s risking exposure but, much like the risk of getting caught during a robbery, for him the risk is part of the thrill, a necessary component.

    The film moves along nicely on this tension and relationship exploration, each demonstrating the trappings of the past, mired in the present, clouding the future. The story is simultaneously moved by MacRay’s gang getting pulled in for one last big heist from Fenway Park by the wonderfully villanious gangster head Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite, in one helluva swan song/last performance). A combination of good and bad luck forces seemingly everyone’s hand at once and, impressively, Affleck keeps the focus on the characters without getting overwhelmed and lets the action of the climax balance it all out quite nicely.

    Good heist movies are always about more than the job, making their characters sympathetic and fascinating without passing judgment. The forces of society seek to form them all in The Town and how they react and manage to make it better is well-told here.

    Rating: B+