I went to see the premiere of The Town in Fenway Park, which lent a surreal aspect to the experience, seeing as a major scene from the Ben Affleck-directed drama takes place there.
I've also resided in Boston for years, another fact that added to the movie, as I yearned to give the film's robbers directions through the North End during one well-executed chase sequence. The overall point being: anyone remotely familiar with this city simply must see The Town.
You'd need to be slurping New England Clam Chowder and whining about the Red Sox in order to feel a closer bond to Boston than you do throughout this heist flick.
But even those that have never stepped foot in Massachusetts will like Affleck's second directorial effort. I did enjoy Gone Baby Gone more, but that says more about that movie than it does about The Town.
The film's title is short for Charlestown, a section of Boston that has produced a record number of criminals. We learn that Affleck's Doug MacRay was a high school hockey star who seemed destined to break free from this mold, only to be drawn back in by his childhood friend, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner, outstanding in a role opposite from his Oscar-nominated turn in The Hurt Locker).
The impressive cast also includes Blake Lively (over-the-top in her accent and trashiness) as MacRay's ex-girlfriend; Chris Cooper (in just one scene) as Doug's imprisoned father; Rebecca Hall (great at crying!) as the woman who gives Doug hope for a new life; and Jon Hamm (under-utilized) as the FBI agent bent on bringing Doug and his bank robbing crew down.There's a Catch Me If You Can feel to the relationship between Hamm's Agent Frawley and Affleck's character, minus the humor and eventual friendship. The former just really, really wants to apprehend the latter, who is an expert at covering his duplicitous tracks.
Make no mistake, though, this drama belongs to Affleck and Renner. It's mostly a story about their upbringing in a tough neighborhood and the attempt by MacRay to break free from the only life both have really known. I love Hamm as an actor, but outside of one fun scene in an interrogation room with Doug, Frawley isn't given a lot to do. Really, anyone could have played this role.
But Renner is believable as a tattooed product of the streets, someone who goes to extreme lengths at every opportunity in order to prove how tough he is. It's clear that Doug is a level above this, but he's no angel.
As the movie progresses, fans root for Doug to leave town and to get his fresh start in Florida with Hall's Claire Keesey, especially after we learn about events from his past (involving his mother) that shed sympathetic light on the character. Through sad eyes, Affleck sells the man's pain and struggle well. He's come a long way as an actor. It's like Pearl Harbor never happened!
Overall, The Town isn't breaking any barriers. It's not unusual to see a story about someone from the wrong side of the tracks wanting a fresh start. Heck, that was the basic premise for Good Will Hunting, the film that put Affleck on the map (I half-expected a note his character leaves near the end to say he just had to "see about a girl").
But this is a gritty drama and fulfills Affleck's previously-stated desire to make a movie that combines action and gun play with themes such as "class in America and how children pay for the sins of their parents." It gives you a strong sense of an area and how it can leave a lasting, dangerous impression on those who have rarely been beyond its crime-ridden streets.
I wanted to feel a bit more of an emotional wallop at the end of The Town, but this is a solid character portrayal of a man stuck between the life he knows and the life he wants. It also has a few fun action sequences. It's hard to imagine anyone leaving the theater and not feeling satisfied.