The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Town

I don't really know what happened to Ben Affleck around 2002, 2003.  It was somewhere in there with his relationship with Jennifer Lopez and his part in Gigli that his rising star took a big tumble.  Too bad because the guy definitely had some talent as an actor.  Well in the years since he's been working his way back up, and hopefully with his latest work as both actor and director pays off for him in 2010's The Town.

The movie comes from one of my favorite genres, the heist movie, and more than that...the last job!  It's the premise that a specialist like a robber, thief, crook, hit man, mercenary has been doing what he does for years, and he's fed up with it.  For whatever reason -- favors, guilt, money -- the man agrees to take on one more job before he rides off into the sunset.  This is a story idea that goes across genres, but it works so well with heist movies.  For just his second movie as a director, Affleck does a solid if unspectacular job with a story that is always solid if unspectacular.  It doesn't rewrite the genre conventions, but it does everything well, and that's all I'm asking for when I go see a movie.

A neighborhood in Boston named Charlestown is infamous for its production of bank and armored car robberies with hundreds of such robberies taking place every year.  One native Bostonian, Doug MacRay (Affleck), leads a crew with his hot-wired childhood friend Jim 'Gem' Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), taking down banks and armored cars after weeks of meticulous planning. One robbery doesn't go exactly as planned and Jim takes a hostage, a bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), who they allow to let go soon after. Doug arranges to bump into her to see if/what she knows about the robbery but finds himself quickly falling for her and vice versa.  Can this situation ever work? And with an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) and his task force hot on Doug's crew, can they continue to work without being taken out?

Previewing the movie, one ridiculously stupid ad said The Town was "Heat meets the Departed" so basically the best ever heist movie vs. the best ever undercover thriller movie.  Yeah, good luck with those comparisons.  That said, it's not fair to compare this movie to either even if there are certain similar elements.  Affleck shoots in the streets to give the movie a gritty, authentic look to the story and provides some very cool Boston locations (more on that later) as a backdrop.  The heavy Boston accents can be hard to decipher at times, but you get into a rhythm with it eventually.  The story isn't anything groundbreaking, but it deals with characters and twists that are in a way...comforting, because we have seen this before.  It's all handled so well I didn't even mind though.

With comparisons to Heat and The Departed, I was a little surprised by the lack of action.  An opening robbery goes smoothly, a heist near the middle features a great chase through the narrow, claustrophobic streets of Charlestown, and the finale is the high point, a heist attempt at Fenway freaking Park for a take of over 3 million bucks.  It's hard to do something new or unique with a heist, but setting it in one of the most iconic sports stadiums ever was a genius idea from Affleck. The robbery and the fallout following is an extended sequence that lasts maybe 20 minutes, making up for any lack of action earlier in the movie.  Baseball fans will hopefully appreciate an inside look at Fenway Park in a very cool, very stylish final robbery/shootout.

Maybe more surprising than the lack of action is that the movie doesn't beg for seven or eight more shootouts and robberies.  It would be overkill.  But Affleck gets such good performances from his cast that it's a pleasure just watching them do their thing.  An underrated actor himself, Affleck is the going away star here as Doug, a generally good guy who got caught up in doing something that he's good at.  His childhood was anything but smooth, and he still suffers from some past demons.  His budding relationship with Hall's Claire is never sugary sweet, it's just a genuine bond between two people looking for some sort of normality, some sort of happiness.  They have a definite chemistry, and their final scene together did remind me of a similar scene at the end of Heat.  As the scene-stealer, Renner is phenomenal as Jim, Doug's childhood friend who always seems one step away from exploding.  It's an intense part and an impressive one that doesn't have him on screen much, but he dominates every time he's on the camera.

The cast goes much deeper than those three with Hamm in a thankless, unforgiving role as the FBI agent hunting down Doug's crew.  There's also Gossip Girl's Blake Lively in a surprising turn as Krista, Doug's old fling and sometime hook-up, Chris Cooper in a one-scene role as Doug's jailed dad, and Pete Postlethwaite as the Florist, the local mafioso who has his hand in everything, and Titus Welliver as Hamm's right hand man. I think an ultimate test for a movie like this with "bad guys" as main characters (and I've written about this before) is do you find yourself rooting for them to pull off the job, to get away in the end?  Maybe it's just my messed up barometer of morals, who knows.  The Town hits it head on because it makes these characters sympathetic through their flaws.  This isn't a classic, and I didn't love it, but it is a stylish, well-made heist movie with a great cast.  Definitely check this one out.

The Town <---trailer (2010): ***/****

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