Movie Review: The Town (2010)
I’m not saying this to be mean, but The Town is somewhat forgettable; its sum is less than its parts. Not that a starring/directing credit for Ben Affleck screams must see movie or anything, but The Town does feature Jeremy Renner, who was so good as the protagonist of The Hurt Locker, and an interesting premise. What happens when a bank robber falls in love with the bank manager he and his accomplices took hostage?
There are reasons, of course. Say that the bank robber, Doug MacRay (Affleck), was actually a really nice guy, a recovering addict whose demons cost him a shot in the NHL. Say that he was the leader of a small gang of bank robbers, that his policy was strictly No Hostage, No Gunfire (Unless Necessary), but that his best friend, hell, practically his brother, James Couglin (Jeremy Renner) was a little on edge after a stint in jail, that his middle name was “Unhinged.” Suppose that the hostage, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), might have seen something—an easily distinguishable tattoo on James’ neck, for example—that’d require a stakeout, no?
It does, and Doug volunteers for the job, if only to spare her the unpleasantness of James’ company. He follows her into a laundromat, she cries into his shoulder, he takes her out for a drink. Naturally, the two fall in love, but, as is the tradition in movies where bad boys date nice girls, Doug finds it increasingly hard to keep Claire and his professional life separate. Even though he’s a nice guy dating somebody terrorized by the thought of bank robbery, he still goes out and robs banks. Oh, and she’s a key witness in the FBI’s investigation of Doug and the crew, and she did see something; Doug’s coaching tells her to hold on to that information until she can actually get something from it.
Doug and Claire’s relationship isn’t as creepy as you’d think. But for the extenuating circumstances of Doug’s life, you can exchange their “When were you going to tell me you were a bank robber?” conversation and break-up with any number of lines from romance movies since time immemorial. To Claire, Doug is just some nice guy in a bad part of town. Doug, on the other hand, sees Claire as an escape route from Charleston and all that it entails—bank robbing, James’ further instability, the mafia, his relationship with James’ Oxy-addled sister. But crime is a tough habit to kick, and the mafia and FBI are like dogs that won’t let go of old bones, so despite the heavy heat on him and the crew, Doug reluctantly agrees to one last job—the mother of all Bostonian heists, as it were.
I get where The Town is going, but it travels a hard road. Doug does seem like a legitimately nice guy, and he seems to really like Claire, but even before the movie determines that he must stop robbing banks to truly start something with Claire, it’s hard to buy the nice guy routine. Regardless of what the film’s opening exposition tells us, bank robbing is not just a job. It takes a special kind of human being to stroll into a bank with a semi-automatic weapon and an empty sack, and the amount of damage Doug and his crew cause is not only superhuman, but unbecoming of a man who seems to want to repent for his way of life. The divide between Doug the nice guy and Doug the hardened criminal isn’t a fine line—it’s an on/off switch.
That being said, there’s a lot to like about The Town, even if there’s not much to take away. Even though he’s playing a heist movie stereotype, Renner is excellent, and Affleck’s direction is clear and to-the-point. The actual bank robbing set-pieces are incredibly slick, even if the getaway vehicles seem to be armored like Sherman tanks. Oh, and the scene where James actually meets Claire? That’s both new and done well. Doug does everything he can to get James and his telltale tattoo away from Claire, but he sticks around, talks darkly of Doug being a great guy and dedicated worker, menaces Claire with his eyes. It’s possible that Claire can see the tattoo; nearly certain that, if she does, things will quickly turn sour. It’s also possible that Jeremy will be offended by Doug’s efforts to get him away, not seeing that it’s for his benefit, but seeing this as Doug making a play to escape his circumstances with somebody other than Jeremy’s sister.
But there’s a lot of pitfalls here, too. I’m getting a little tired of movies portraying Bostonian brotherhood, and not enough time is devoted to the FBI’s efforts to bring Doug and the gang down. Truly great heist movies are just as much about the heist as they are how the heist goes wrong. Here, the FBI (led by Jon Hamm, who is often called upon when government officials need to seem steel-eyed and majestically-haired) don’t function as an instrument of downfall so much as they act like the jaded best friend from a teen romance, telling the girl that Doug’s only her boyfriend because of some stupid bet, like they’re jealous of her because Doug doesn’t want to play cops and robbers anymore. And redemption? Let’s not talk about redemption. That’s only the bait. The switch is unfair to everybody.
The Town. Directed by Ben Affleck. With Ben Affleck (Doug MacRay), Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey), Jon Hamm (Agent Frawley), Jeremy Renner (James Coughlin), Blake Lively (Krista Coughlin), and Pete Postlethwaite (Fergie Colm). Released September 17, 2010, by Warner Bros.
Paul Arrand Rodgers
Paul Arrand Rodgers has this blog, and that's about it.