Behind as ever on the movie front — I saw this one two weeks ago — and we’re heading into a particularly chock-full film weekend. So, without further ado: Ben Affleck’s worthwhile crime saga The Town, his similarly Beantown-based follow-up to the promising Gone Baby Gone, is, for all intent and purposes, Heat in the Hub. (Or, put another way, this movie is to Heat what The Departed was to Infernal Affairs — Just add Boston.)
And let’s face it: Between the movies above, and Mystic River, The Boondock Saints, and even going back to the 1994 Jeff Bridges-Tommy Lee Jones mega-stinker Blown Away, white working-class Boston has recently become a bit of a movie cliche as the go-to venue for local color in a cops-and-robbers movie. (And, as in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck perhaps overuses the aerial establishing shots of the Boston skyline here.) But take that for what it is and The Town is definitely a quality entertainment — Well-written, well-made, and with a raft of very good performances, some of them potentially Oscar-caliber, The Town is a smart, adult-minded action movie that delivers what it promises.
For some, I’d expect what The Town mainly promises is “Don Draper and Gossip Girl!” (Having never seen Gossip Girl, and being more of a movie than a TV guy, I was more drawn in by Rebecca Hall and Jeremy Renner. Ok, Jon Hamm too.) But, in fact, and perhaps because Affleck is obviously an actor himself and thus generous with them, The Town is less a star vehicle than an ensemble piece, and it brims over with enjoyable performances. To take just three examples in the margins, Chris Cooper quietly simmers with pent-up rage in the Big House, Pete Postlethwaite gives a sinister edge (and a whiff of cheese) to his turn as an old-school Boston criminal, and Affleck alum Titus Welliver brings his usual swagger to the role of a local cop who knows all-too-well how the old neighborhood works.
I kinda hate to say this, but if there’s a false note struck in the acting department here, it’s probably Affleck himself. He’s a decent enough actor, and he doesn’t upset the movie by any means — From moment to moment, he’s fine in the role. But as the lead — Dougie MacRay, a street-smaht Charlestown bank robber who accidentally falls for the hostage (Hall) of his latest job — Affleck seems miscast, mainly because his choirboy looks and general, aw-shucks demeanor rob the character of a much-needed edge. However much he hit the gym beforehand, Affleck just seems too easygoing to pull off the dangerous blue-collar tough-guy thing. (And so, small plot details, like his saintly character once being an almost-pro-hockey player, which might’ve worked otherwise, seem even more like screenwriterly groaners.)
Now, in the Al Pacino role — the dogged FBI agent hot on our anti-hero’s heels — Jon Hamm is pretty much right in his usual, Drapery wheelhouse. You can’t say he shows us much different here (other than, in one scene, a very funny Boston accent — “You and your boys didn’t just roll a Stah Mahket over in Milton for a bahx of quahters.” It’s right up there with his James Mason.) But the role suits him, and it’s definitely a step up from his brief appearance in the Keanu’ed Day the Earth Stood Still. (Is Superman next? Well, definitely maybe.)
For her part, Blake Lively is a real presence in a relatively small role, and, while, like I said, I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, I doubt her character on TV is the been-’round-the-block Townie mom (a la Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone) that Lively plays here, and she’s quite good. Rebecca Hall, meanwhile, is an actress I’ve sorta crushed on since The Prestige (she’s probably best known for Vicky Christina Barcelona (#15), and most recently popped up in Red Riding), but her part here — the love interest — is a mostly thankless one. (The Town‘s script is generally solid, but at one point in the early going Hall is given a laugh-out-loud terrible anecdote involving tragedies and sunny days that stops the film dead. She musters through as best she can.)
In the end, though, the standout of The Town is Jeremy Renner, continuing his post-Hurt Locker leap to the A-list with another very impressive performance. As Jem, Dougie’s screw-up of a best friend who takes a special relish in crackin’ skulls on the job, Renner takes a Masshole character which could’ve been wayyyy over-the-top in someone else’s hands and sells it with understatement. In, say, 28 Weeks Later, Renner seemed as amiable as Affleck, but here he’s a coiled menace, almost despite himself, and the type of Townie at the end of the bah you do NOT want to mess with.
Renner may have gotten passed over for Jeff Bridges at the Oscars last year (a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, if not necessarily for Crazy Heart), and if The Social Network is half as good as touted, Andrew Garfield or even JT might end up giving him some run too. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Renner atop the Supporting Actor field for The Town this winter. In a well-made, entertaining heist film through-and-through, he’s the guy who ultimately steals the show.