Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Movie Review: The Town

When I first saw a preview for The Town, I thought, "Gee, that looks like an interesting movie. I sure would have liked to see it... if I wasn't just shown the whole darn thing in that trailer!" I mean, I'm all for stirring up audience excitement leading up to a big fall release, but the moviegoing experience just isn't as fun when you've already seen every plot twist and critical moment before you even buy a ticket.

But, to be perfectly honest, seeing an extensive preview for a movie like The Town doesn't impact the movie that much because the plot is straightforward/simple enough and the critical moments are somewhat predictable anyway. But even those potential drawbacks don't take away from the movie that much, seeing as its purpose is not to keep its audience guessing with convoluted twists and turns, but rather to lead them through the streets of Charlestown, MA following co-writer/director/star Ben Affleck on a wild and crazy caper. And, as far as capers go, it was pretty darn satisfying.

The Town is a basic cops vs. robbers story following the career of four professional bank robbers (including Oscar winner Ben Affleck and Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner) as they do what they do best. Their lives are complicated when their leader (Affleck) begins a relationship with a woman they took as a hostage (Rebecca Hall) in the beginning of the film. Meanwhile, an FBI Agent with a debonair 1960s ad-agency flair (Jon Hamm) tries to catch them. Throw in Affleck's old flame/Renner's sister - oxycodone addict with a heart of gold Blake Lively - and things really start to heat up!

Find out more after the jump. But not if you don't want spoilers. Cuz there are gonna be some spoilers.

Here's a quick rundown of the rest of the plot. It's real quick, cuz only like three more things happen in the movie. Jon Hamm uses his police skills to discover the identity of the suspects. He then tells Rebecca Hall, who understandably flips out, which puts the kibosh on her plan to skip town with her new beau Ben Affleck. Meanwhile, Affleck's plan to leave town is squashed from two directions: 1) childhood friend/partner in crime Jeremy Renner's urging to rekindle his relationship with Blake Lively (and their love child), and 2) threats from his underworld boss known as "The Florist" (Pete Postlethwaite, doing a scarily convincing Irish brogue).

Here's where I got confused. If it was revealed that Affleck's gang was effectively controlled by an Irish mafia-type organization, then I must not have been paying attention when they told us. The dynamic I saw was that they robbed banks on their own just because they were complete badasses, and Postlethwaite's character was the guy who helped them clean their money afterwards. But it turns out that The Florist had Affleck under his thumb the whole time... along with Affleck's father (Chris Cooper) back in the day... and he killed Affleck's mother. OH SNAP!

I call this a "Joker Moment" - the popular trope where it's revealed that a villain is responsible for some childhood trauma in the protagonist's life. It's so named because of Tim Burton's 1989 film version of Batman, where he shamelessly changes canon and makes The Joker the murderer of young Bruce Wayne's parents. (This trope is repeated for Robin's backstory in 1995's Batman Forever when Joel Schumaker changes canon and makes Two-Face the murderer of Dick Grayson's parents.) This trick was a little cheap, but it gave Affleck a good excuse to shoot Postlethwaite in the balls.

These plot events were punctuated by three superbly-executed heist scenes. The first (the inciting incident) features an uncredited guest appearance by Victor Garber - probably included at the behest of Affleck's wife, Jennifer Garner, who became friends with Garber on the hit show about a spy, Alias. The second has a truly epic car chase. And the third takes place in one of baseball's most hallowed cathedrals, Fenway Park, and culminates in a ferocious firefight that leaves most of our heroes dead.

All except Affleck, who comes dangerously close to getting captured, but is warned at the last second by Rebecca Hall, who somehow finds it in her heart to forgive him. It turns out that his character was crafty enough that he didn't need the warning, but it's the thought that counts.

The Town makes use of the classic cops & robbers technique whereby we identify with the bad guys and hope they succeed against the stiff, cold and calculating law enforcement. Sure, we've seen it before, but Affleck-as-director pulled it off pretty convincingly - although I knew what was happening (as well as what was going to happen), I was never bored. Affleck-as-actor put on his broody face a bit too much for my taste, and for my money was overshadowed by Jeremy Renner's gruff, intimidating Irish-American street tough.

Yeah, there were probably holes in the plot. But if so, I clearly didn't notice them enough to let them get in the way of the reasons why I enjoyed the movie, which means it passed Alfred Hitchcock's test. Even now, in the cold light of day, I still have pretty much only positive feelings for it. Which is probably one of the reasons why it was this weekend's top grosser.

Overall rating: 72 Congos