Ben Affleck is fast becoming one of my favorite directors in Hollywood. The Town is no Gone Baby Gone — it doesn’t really break any new ground — it’s just a sawlid blue collah directawrial effit. Ben Affleck’s gawt a jawb ta do: make a Bawstonsploitation cawps and rawbahs movie that’s as ennahtainin as that daygo Scoahsayzee did wit the Depahted. I’m heah ta tell you queahs that when Affleck punches the time clawk, he goes in theah an’ gives a gritty pahfahmance, leaves it all on the screen, an’ then goes home ta watch the Sawx like a good union slawb.
The film follows a pretty well-worn blueprint (though in this case, you might call it “tried and true”). Ben Affleck plays a big, tough bank rawbah by da name a Dougy MacRay. MacRay is a real blue-cawllah guy, who grew up in Chahlestown, where (as the beginning title card tells us) robbing banks is a trade passed down from father to son. MacRay isn’t your average bank rawbah though — da kid’s gawt smahts, an’ a good haht. But that won’t stop him from doin’ what needs ta be done ta go fahwahd in this dawg eat dawg enviyahment. Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Lockah plays the Pesci to Affleck’s Liotta, the Mickey Rourke to his Eric Roberts, the ‘Worm’ to his Matt Damon, the Pesci to his DeNiro — the crazy best friend who’s always taking it one step too far and getting him “jammed up.” Togethah they lead a rag-tag crew of no-screwin-around professional bank rawbahs from da old neighbahhood, guys like Gloansy Magloan, Mikey High Tawps, and Boogah Lips O’Shea.
The conflict comes when Renner gets spooked during a job and, going off script, takes a hostage, a bank manager played by the ridiculously attractive Rebecca Hall (dark hair, big eyes, big lips, freckles — *swoon*) on the way out of the bank. They keep her blindfolded before letting her go, and when no one follows them, they eventually get away scot free. But what did she see? (SHE DIDN’T SEE NUTHIN! GET THAT IN YOAH HEAD!) Will she tell the cops? Someone has to follow her around to keep an eye on her, and since Renner is a loose cannon, the jawb falls to Affleck. He trails her for a while, but wouldn’t you know it, the two crazy kids fall in love. The macguffin — nice, Irish name fer a plawt device, I thawght — is Renner’s tell-tale tattoo. Rebecca Hall saw it during the robbery, and now that she and Affleck are playing house, if she sees it again with them togethah, they ah gonna be in a real jam.
The cliché elements are many. Everyone has a dahk family secret which will be revealed in due time, accompanied by pregnant pauses (It’s hahd fahr a tough guy like me ta say this Tawmmy, but… my mothah…) and dramatically tinkling pianos . Most of the characters are given to breaking into preposterously witty soliloquoy (“why nawt just shoot my buddy, take his jawb, hike up gas prices, club a baby seal and join the national gahd?”), especially Jon Hamm’s character, the vulgar-yet-charming, straight-shootin’ plainspoken Rex Ryan of FBI cawps. Ben Affleck is going to mix pleasure with business, with dangerous consequences, and just when he wants out, they’ll PULL HIM BACK IN! JUST DO THIS LAST JAWB FAH ME, TAWMMY! YOU GREW UP HEAH! YOU KNOW DA RULES! The Bostonsploitation is so over the top that it’s comical, I suspect deliberately so. Not in a satirical way, more just in a we-know-where-this-has-to-go-so-let’s-have-fun-with-it kind of way. For people doing work about their own hometowns, there comes a point at which you’re not trying to communicate the essence of your own upbringing so much as using others’ perception of it to make a fun cartoon. For instance, Affleck’s one last job? ROBBING FENWAY PAHHK! I SH*T YOU NAWT, THE GREEN MONSTAH! AH YOU CRAZY, TAWMMY? WEAH GONNA RAWB DA SAWX?? Everyone wears Bruins and Red Sox track suits the entire movie, and at one point, when Rebecca Hall reads a letter written to her by Ben Affleck (the words of which we hear Affleck delivering via voice over, of course), I half expected it to be signed “YOAHS TRULY, GO SAWX, DOUGY.”
And yet… this mostly isn’t a bad thing. I almost stood up and cheered when Affleck finally delivered his “I’m leavin this whole fackin’ town in my reahview” line. It’s just so well done. The dahk family secrets will become crucial to the plot in the end, and thus, they don’t come off as cheap artifice or phony posturing (*cough* Boondock Saints! *cough, cough*). As for the soliloquizing, hell, with the acting as solid as it is in this movie, that’s just fun to watch . You can’t do much better than Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper, Jon Hamm, and Peter Postlethwaithe. On top of that, the shots are well composed, and there’s none of that quick-blur-cut, shakey-cam bullsh*t that’s become so ubiquitious. Affleck doesn’t feel the need for that extreme-closeup, use-the-camera-like-a-rectal-thermometer framing style like so many of his peers, and seems to actually enjoy giving us a spacial awareness during action sequences. Most importantly, he uses the visuals to TELL A STORY. I know, novel, right? A lot of today’s directors forget that they’re supposed to be communicating, not graphic designing. Not Affleck. Graphic designahs always seemed kinda queah ta me anyways, Tawmmy. He doesn’t take many creative chances, if any, but I’m tellin ya, da fackin’ guy aces film school.
That’s not to say it didn’t have its problems. For one thing, why does Dougy MacRay have to be a washed up hawkey playah? Whether it’s Johnny Utah, Martin Riggs, Ethan Hawke in Training Day, Jimmy Dix in Last Boy Scout, etc. etc., why does the good guy in every action movie have to be a local-hero ex-jock? I love sports and I’m a bit of a jock myself, but even I’ve started to resent the idea that a character needs to be a sports hero in order for us to root for him. It doesn’t detract much from your enjoyment of the movie, but it adds nothing. Even less forgivable is the old minor-character-sacrifices-his-life-to-move-the-story-along crutch that The Town‘s guilty of using towards the end. HEY, TAWMMY, I KNOW YOUS AN’ I BAYUHLY TALKED TO EACH OTHAH THIS ENTIYAH MOVIE, BUT I’M GONNA GO HEAD AN COMMIT SUICIDE FAH YA. SEE, ALL’S I EVAH WANTED OUTTA LIFE IS TA DIE KNOWIN’ I HELPED A FRIEND SCOWAH SOME HAWT BAWX. Some movie clichés exist because there’s a truth to them, but the only truth to this one is that it disguises laziness. Sure, sure, some jackass character we didn’t care about anyway is going to go throw himself into the gears of the machine with a wink and a smile, that’s much more believable than having to write your protagonist’s way out of a jam. (*faahht noise*)
The Town probably isn’t going to make my top ten list, but it’s the kind of movie I could see myself watching over and over every time it comes on cable. It’s a solid genre picture. It’s fun. If you’re at all in the mood for a fackin’ shoot-’em-up, cawps and rawbahs movie, I can’t imagine you not liking this one. What ah you, retahded? Maybe you should do yoahself a favah and stawp bein’ so much of a queah.
In conclusion, Affleck was the bomb.
GRADE: Sawlid B+
Side Note: I really wish they could’ve un-Don Draper’d Jon Hamm’s hair a little bit. It looks very Little Lord Fauntleroy-ish in a contemporary setting.