Below is the unedited review of “The Town”, published in MKJ and FJ’s column “Animadversion” in iMAGES on Sunday, Dawn Newspaper on the 10th of October 2010. Links to the published version can be found at Dawn.com at the end of this post.
Small Town, Heavy Hearted Robbers
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
I don’t like it when movies start with an info-tag that lets the viewer in on the intended grit or double-bind of its foundation. But in the case of “The Town” – a rough around the edges, caper drama about routine bank robbers, FBI and the misplaced lead who wants out – it sticks like bubblegum on shoe. Messy yet mandatory if you’re walking-the-walk on the bad side of town.
The sober title card introduces “Charlestown”, a district in Boston (expect dropped ‘r’ in accents everywhere), as a bank robber’s paradise. Opening spectacularly, one particular family, owned by Pete Postlethwaite, crashes in and out of banks with timed precision and little tension. The robbers, in bad Skeletor-like masks, take Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, releasing her blindfolded and loosely cuffed on the Boston riverbank.
One of the robbers is the tenderhearted Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck); the leading hero with a mandatory heavy heart. A once local prodigy, who’s now surrendered to a life of crime passed down by father to son.
Doug – an unsatisfied soul (again, a prerequisite) now looking for a way out of this overbearing business of looting – is smitten at first sight by the delicate and frightened Claire, and soon, in a flimsy, if expertly handled moment, reaches out to her in a Laundromat. The spark, if low-key, is fulgent. Like many gangster movies, Doug has a hot-head, surrogate brother-like (Jeremy Renner) and his sister (Blake Lively) to contend to. And there’s the FBI run by an uninspiring Jon Hamm, who, despite their resources, and the speed of a gerbil, wander around the situation.
The drama is somewhat epic, if perhaps lackluster, in a linearly peripatetic story. Like an off-season sales chart, the film dips and rises, mostly in the second act, which familiarizes with proverbial situations about character dispositions; eg. Doug, trying to establish ground, tells Claire about the mother who ran out on him, and then to make sense of things, goes to visit jail bound dad Stephen (Chris Cooper, in an effective cameo).
Nothing helps much in the screenplay by Mr. Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard; but even with the quotidian turns of the script and the single dimensionality of the characters, Mr. Affleck extracts mesmeric performances from the leading players. “Jem”, Mr. Renner’s belligerent is an excellent ruse to get excited about the actor’s upcoming superhero persona Hawkeye (in Joss Wheadon directed “Avengers”), while Ms. Lively, of TV’s “Gossip Girl” and the upcoming “Green Lantern” (almost every actor has a superhero movie these days), proficiently fidgets within the confines of a simple-minded, stowaway character (she’s gone for the most of the first half). Ms. Hall, the film (and Doug’s) beacon of schmaltzy preposterousness, mostly, slides in and out of scenes with untangled ambiguity.
Mr. Affleck cleverly, and sometimes awkwardly, stumbles in the drama yet despite its fallibilities “The Town” is a striking example of a gritty “almost” masterpiece. One, whose picturesque statue was chiseled a bit too much; Or maybe was not chiseled deep enough.
“The Town” is rated R. There’s profanity, sex and an over-bearing gun-trotting climax.
By Farheen Jawaid
Cold, withered and exerting an aura of repugnant shallowness in its 125 min run, “The Town” is a Bostonian crime-thriller set in Charlestown, a stripe of area that cries glory of its blue-collar crime history, where crime is passed down generations.
Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay a man who’s neck deep with a gang of robbers in Charlestown. He’s a good guy and wants to get out, and now the need is dire because he finds love in Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Claire is the girl he kidnaps for a smooth getaway from the bank where she works.
“The Town” is a pleasant surprise as Ben Affleck’s second endeavor as director (his first was the critical favorite “Gone Baby Gone”), and he shows the same control and restraint that adds him to the few whose work I’ll look forward to. Mr. Affleck has shown he has a gift of pulling performances from his actors, all of whom, including Mr. Affleck, performed with clear and honest dedication – the exceptions are Jon Hamm whose first big role after the success of “Mad Men” and Pete Postlethwaite; Mr. Hamm, the detective out to get evidence against MacRay and his bank robbing gang, looked lost in his one dimensional role. Mr. Postlethwaite as the head honcho of the gang leaves no impression to talk about.
The man running away with the movie is Jeremy Renner. His character Jem is a guy who can do anything anytime (an echo of his “The Hurt Locker” Sergeant William James). Mr. Renner, a power-house of personality, consistently displayed fast thinking and frigidness of his character.
However, “The Town” is not faultless. In the middle it losses steam and weavers around and sometimes the chemistry between actors is non-existent. However the real enjoyment of “The Town” is the gritty atmosphere of Boston set within the confines of a small, linear story.
The published version can be found at: