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The Town: Paying the Price
"No matter how much you change, you still have to pay the price for the things you've done. So I got a long road." --Doug MacRay
This quote from Ben Affleck's second film refers to his lead character, but it may very well refer to the actor-turned-director's career. Affleck has been on the spotlight since he was in his 20s, after winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, along his best friend Matt Damon. With his newfound fame, Affleck has been constantly criticized for his acting skills (or lack of) which has featured him in lead roles on films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, Gigli, Jersey Girl, and other not-so critically acclaimed films.
Since releasing his directorial debut − Gone Baby Gone − in 2007, Affleck has been on a whole different spotlight, with critics and audiences praising his skills behind the camera, as opposed to his skills in front of it. The Town is Affleck's second effort, but does it prove that he has what it takes to succeed as a director?
The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachussets. which an opening quote claims is both a breeding ground and a refuge for bank robbers. There, a group of childhood friends use their free time to, well, rob banks. The group is led by Doug MacRay (Affleck), a former hockey prospect whose father is in jail for guess what?... yes, robbing banks. The second member of the group is Doug's best friend, Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), a career criminal with a bit of a short temper. The other two members are Albert Magloan and Dez Elden, but they barely get lines or screen-time. Their robberies are ordered by Fergie Colm (Pete Postlethwaite), a local crime boss who uses a flower shop as a front for his illegal business.
The film opens with one of their robberies at a bank, where Jem ends up taking the manager (Rebecca Hall) as hostage. After releasing her in a nearby beach, they wonder if they have any heat on them. Because of this, Doug decides to follow the manager to make sure she doesn't lead the authorities to them. Eventually, he falls for her and decides to walk out on the life. But not before he is convinced to do two additional jobs, the first one by Jem, and the second one by Fergie. All the while, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is on their tails.
Now, if this all sounds too familiar, it's because it is; and that's one of my main issues with the film. It borrows so much elements from other similar films that it ends up feeling formulaic, clichéd, and by-the-numbers. Most of the characters are templates that we've seen on other films:
- The noble criminal that wants out of the life,
- His unstable, trigger-happy friend who forces him to stay,
- The crime lord that is actually the man behind the crimes, and the actual "bad guy".
Also, key elements of its narrative and plot are borrowed from similar films: noble criminal falls for female mark, unstable friend finds out about it, noble criminal has father in jail, the one big hit he has to do before he can walk out, and so on.
That's not to say that the film is bad, but its lack of originality hinders its effect. Almost everything about how the plot unravels feels like something we've seen on some other film, which takes away any element of surprise, innovation, or originality that it might have.
On the good side, Affleck does show his directing skills. Like with his previous film, he demonstrates knowledge on how to handle the camera. Most notably, the chase and action scenes are well handled and intense. Plus, regardless of what some people might say about his acting chops, he also handles the lead role quite well. Not that it was the most demanding, but still. In addition to him, most of the cast is solid and effective, considering what the script gives them. However, I'm not sure that Jeremy Renner's performance was Oscar-caliber (he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar). Sure, Renner handles the role pretty well and his performance is good, but it isn't something I might remember in a few weeks.
The film also features one of the last performances by the great Pete Postlethwaite as crime boss Fergie Colm. His performance, although brief, was pretty good. Despite his frail appearance, Postlethwaite still managed to instill his character with a particularly menacing essence that made him feel dangerous and threatening.
After a decade of meddling in mediocre rom-coms and brainless action films, Affleck has shown that he − like MacRay in the film − can steer his life and career in a new direction. With three films already under his belt (the last one being the Oscar-winning Argo), he has shown he has the skills to be a relevant director in Hollywood. But The Town, and even the critically acclaimed Argo, shows that, much like MacRay, he still has a long road to go.
The Town is a decent effort, unfortunately brought down by its own formula. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on Affleck, but that's the price to pay for being an Oscar-winning, mega-star: expectations are higher for you. Grade: I'm torn between a low B- or a high C+. I'll leave it at that.
The Town Official Trailer
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