Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It's #1 at the box office and deserves to be: THE TOWN--Ben Affleck's un-valentine to CharlesTOWN Massachusetts. Ben grew up right next door in Cambridge, but says it was a world apart; this movie proves him right. Based on the novel PRINCE OF THIEVES by Chuck Hogan, the film zeros in on one particular square mile of Boston as a breeding ground for bank robbers. Ben plays Doug MacRay, and Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER) is his hair-trigger foster brother; they are part of a gang of work-a-day crooks who topple a bank, take the teller (Rebecca Hall) hostage, elude the FBI (Jon Hamm) who's closing in on them, and wrestle with the dynamics of this inbred neighborhood and the local bosses who control them.

Ben directs THE TOWN with a surer hand than his last effort GONE BABY GONE, which he also co-wrote with Aaron Stockard, and thus inherits some of the former film's problems. These guys don't know how to write women--Rebecca Hall as Claire the bank teller who takes up with Doug, may as well be an amnesiac; she seems to have no past, and functions merely as a catalyst for Doug's evolution. So their relationship lacks real heat and tension; it is the film's one major flaw.

But here's what's great about THE TOWN: Affleck captures the claustrophobia of this neighborhood, and the scary elders who have a chokehold on it. Jeremy Renner is explosive as a limited guy who uses his temper to force those close to him to stick. Blake "Gossip Girl" Lively is a revelation as Renner's blowsy drugged out sister and Doug's sometime squeeze. She has perfected the "I slept in my make-up" look (and apparently, the actress did), but the performance is more than skin deep. Best of all is Ben Affleck in one of his most convincing portrayals. He's leaner -and so is the performance; he's "acting" less, but revealing more. He's subtle and vulnerable and tough and funny. Sorry to say, the only person I didn't buy, was Jon Hamm as a hard-boiled FBI guy...he just doesn't convey that hungry, relentless killer instinct, which would have juiced up the tension between him and his prey the way, say, Tommy Lee Jones did when he pursued Harrison Ford in THE FUGITIVE.
But the plot builds to a taut climax, and the action sequences have real energy, particularly one car chase that garnered spontaneous applause from our premiere audience! There are a few killer lines of dialogue, and several quieter and very effective scenes involving tense conversations played for maximum suspense. Ben knows just where to put the camera and how long to stay with a scene; he's developing a rhythm for this terrain. He's become the teller of dark tales from Boston. The question is how long he'll stay in this neighborhood... perhaps next time around, a light romantic comedy set in the Back Bay?
Who knows--I'm just so happy he's out there doing it all, in his and my hometown.

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