Offering nothing really new or wholly fresh to the crime-saga genre, Ben Affleck, in his directorial follow-up to the grossly involving Gone Baby Gone, presents a traditional tale of Irish-American woe amongst the streets of Boston with The Town. It’s an innocent enough turn from the highs of his previous work, just a bit disappointing. Still, The Town is a bit too traditional in its noirish storytelling and, while it is visually stylized, it doesn’t retain much of the praised indie “vibe” its predecessor had. There is a decisive split fracturing this narrative into two parts: (1) the beginning which absolutely works in earnest at creating a sense of gritty realism and (2) the plodding finale which, to my sensibilities, outstretches the limits of what worked so well in the film’s beginning and, ultimately, falls flat.
As far as narrative goes, The Town is essentially Boston’s version of Di Palma’s Carlito’s Way. You know, the mantra of ‘one more job and I’m out’ sorta thing. To be exact, Affleck’s movie is set against the gritty backdrop of Charlestown, a deprived community inside of Boston, known for the lineage of criminal activity it breeds. Enter Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his (of course) hotheaded partner Jem (Jeremy Renner). They are stereotypical “brothers” in crime; they like to play dress-up and knock over banks and armored trucks. Yet, Jem’s temper threatens to tear the seams of their threaded relationship at every turn. Instead of pulling in a link between poverty and crime for the dynamic duo, the audience gets a fist-pump from a muscled and very criminal crew in the film’s adrenalinized bank-heist opening. Jem, a stock character if ever there was one, brutally beats a bank teller and takes Claire (Rebecca Hall) as hostage; a first for the group. Remember what I said about his temper…
Once Claire is released (she’s from “the block” after all) by the gang, everyone’s suspicions are amplified: Jem thinks she’ll talk and rat the boys out; Doug says he’ll “take care” of her only to fall in love with her; Claire refuses to talk to FBI Special Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm who is not even close to the genius of Don Draper in Mad Men with this “hammy” performance) because of her history in Charlestown, and the audience, sensing a familiarity in storyline, scope and sequence, becomes suspicious of Jem’s menacing presence, Doug’s secret from Claire, and the trappings of a script that, unfortunately, isn’t as smart as it really, really wants to be. It’s the product of too much television, folks…way too much; a fact referenced by Doug in conversation, too.
Affleck, in the role of “honorable” crook, does score some sympathy points with the audience. Still lagging a bit in the acting department behind the talent of his brother, Affleck’s taste for authenticity in locale – as a director - is something to be celebrated. And to the letter, this film captures that level of gritty verisimilitude. While The Town is steeped in detailed realism, including personal scenes - very much stripped of emotion and totally engrossing - involving Doug’s AA realities, the film can’t be supported by Affleck’s acting alone. Therein, the film suffers its average fate at the hands of a strangling script.
Paper thin and grossly predictable, Renner’s characterization of Jem is see-thru at best and never delivers any amount of real surprise or danger toward the Romeo-and-Juliette situation developing between Doug and Claire. Close your eyes and you STILL can see Jem’s deathwish approaching with the steady THUD-THUD-THUD of its predictable and clomping march. Even Pete Postlethwaithe’s delivery of fresh roses and nightmarish ultimatums can’t shake the been-there, done-that vibe of The Town.
Also relatively scathed by the largely undistinguished script (courtesy of Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard, and Affleck) is Hamm in the role of Special Agent. Again, Hamm is a fine actor, but – when it matters the most - he can’t seem to land some pretty basic and stereotypical cops-and-robbers lines because he’s probably not use to the awfully gamey dialogue (as, thankfully, Mad Men is free of such things) and the character fails to impress (almost becoming laughable in a few scenes) because of the simplistic styling Hamm is uncomfortable with…although we can tell he is “stressed” by his efforts to capture the masked bank robbers by a deepening 5 o’clock shadow…
Sure, Chris Cooper might show up to hand over an excellent performance as Doug’s father, but the brevity of Doug’s backstory (which, I’m sorry to say, comes across as an edited afterthought with flashbacks) isn’t enough to give Affleck’s film the needed amount of staying power as it disjointedly attempts to sew together blunt-force action with moments of intimate realism. It’s a film – complete with a talented cast - that deserves to be a lot better than, I suppose, it actually is.
I wasn’t expecting the moon with The Town, but having recently revisited Gone Baby Gone, I am a little disappointed by Affleck’s formulaic follow-up. As a companion piece, I suppose it works, as there are some similarities. Alone? Not as well. Sure, this is better than we thought Affleck was headed in Hollywood, but it needs a bit more meat. Ultimately, The Town, while it does have its moments of involving specificity, suffers a bit too much from its bland inhabitants: a pantheon of overused stock characters and an all-too familiar storyline.
Extended Cut / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy
Available on Blu-ray - December 21, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy; BD-Live
Warner Bros presents Affleck’s The Town in a rich 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer. Black levels are constantly pure and the grisly feel of this streetwise picture is preserved through the constant use of blue and gray hues. Interestingly enough, the transfer brings out more of the softening of some scenes. The problem with the transfer comes in the fact that both versions (the 125-minute theatrical cut and the 153-minute extended version) of the film are on a single disc. The transfer quality suffers a little through bitmapping because each film is given its own transfer for one disc to contain, thus faint color bars appear from time to time. Purists won’t be pleased, but others will be satisfied with its transfer. The sound, presented on two separate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks, is rollicking and intense. The gunshots and dialogue are both handled with skill and respect.
- Affleck provides two commentaries for each version of the film. He is sincere and humble and both tracks – the extended cut being my favorite for its thoughtfulness – are entertaining and reveal just how much this man respects his art. Very nice indeed.
Let’s get into it: the extended cut of the film is great in what it adds to the storyline. My minor complaints – undeveloped relationships and weak subplots - about the film are resolved with this cut of the film. Yet, it is with great humility that I suggest the theatrical cut is the stronger of the two. I still contend that this is typical genre storytelling, but I can see how editing down the extended to the theatrical version made sense. Some scenes really don’t work too well in the extended cut. So, there you have it, folks, two versions of the film on one disc. You decide the version that works for you.
Along with two versions of the film and two great commentary tracks from Affleck, the blu-ray supplementals include the following material:
- Ben's Boston: Six Focus Points (31 min)
- "Pulling Off the Perfect Heist"
- "The Town"
- "Nuns with Guns: Filming in the North End"
- "The Real People of the Town”
- "Ben Affleck: Director & Actor"
- "The Cathedral of Boston"
- Extended Cut Scene Indicator
- BD-Live Functionality
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
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