Sunday, September 19, 2010

REVIEW: The Town

Ben Affleck's The Town never really surprised me - and that's both a complaint and a compliment.

It seems to have surprised a number of my critical brethren, who have generally exclaimed, "Wow, Ben Affleck really CAN direct," and/or "Wow, the chick from Gossip Girl really CAN act!" While I agree on both counts, neither of these views surprised me. Affleck had already turned in the very assured Gone Baby Gone, and as such, I had faith in his talent. If Affleck cast Blake Lively, I was reasonably confident she could do something other than a wear a cleavage-baring dress.

Everyone in the A-list cast delivers, but I was most impressed by Rebeca Hall's touching, nuanced performance. From Vicky Cristina Barcelona to The Prestige to Please Give and beyond, Hall always makes for an engaging presence that suggests something intense lurking beneath her placid surface, and that's especially true here, where she plays a bank manager who unknowingly falls for one of the men who abducted her (Affleck). Jon Hamm proves himself a very capable  action hero of sorts, and Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) performs well as Affleck's hot-headed cohort, though I do hope Renner doesn't get typecast as "the loose cannon" too often.

What's truly impressive about The Town is what goes on behind the camera. Affleck directs cleanly and confidently, and what helps here are key behind-the-scenes personnel. His cinematographer is Robert Elswit and his editor is Dylan Tichenor, both Paul Thomas Anderson regulars. Other key collaborators include second-unit director Alexander Witt, and additional editor Christopher Rouse, both veterans of the Bourne series, who came in handy in shaping the complex and exciting action scenes.

As accomplished and enthralling as The Town often is, it doesn't quite hit the heights of other recent Boston crime dramas like The Departed or Mystic River, the latter of which is particularly echoed in this picture. The script, by Affleck, Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig, based on Chuck Hogan's  novel Prince of Thieves, unfolds rather predictably and isn't very good about misdirecting from its big reveals. Nothing here should come as a great surprise to anyone unless they've seen very few crime movies.  The ending, in particular, is too neat and tidy.

Still, The Town's flaws detract very little from it's considerable impact. Blake Lively should no longer have to atone for being a babe on a CW show, and Affleck does not have to atone for the J.Lo years either.



Anonymous said...

Pretty excited about seeing this; I was rather disappointed with some of Ben's last performances but this movie looks (and now sounds) pretty solid. Thanks for the review, Eric!


David M. Allen M.D. said...

Really enjoyed it until I listened to the critic expose all the unlikely plot elements. The attraction between Hall's and Affleck's characters was certainly difficut to fathom. Also wondered how Hall's character was able to launder all that much money. And how does someone miss so many people while indiscriminately firing automatic weapons at close range?

Sometimes it's best not to think too much about about a movie afterwards.

Anonymous said...

I fear this movie will get overlooked by many as they see the preview and think that Affleck is just trying to follow in his buddy's footsteps.

Allison M. Dickson said...

David -- Automatic weapons are notoriously inaccurate.