January 12, 2013

The Town (2010)

When The Town was released there was, and still is, considerable chatter that it is basically Heat in a different city. Even though I consider Heat to be my all time favorite film, I also love The Town on its own merits because, while sharing similarities, it certainly is a different film when you get down to it.

Heat was a film about two men who have the same drive in life ... one just chose to do bad things while the other chose to try to stop those bad things from happening. It went beyond Cops and Robbers by showing that a good cop can have a crap life and make really bad decisions while a bad robber can live a lifestyle that 'they', whoever they are, says is reserved for the good and morale.

In The Town, the main thing at play is loyalty. In fact, The Town somehow plays with moral ambiguity and straightforward good/bad decision making all at the same time. In this world we live in where antiheroes are in, The Town doesn't try to paint it's 'heroes' as anything more then bad guys. The common trope of the bad guy trying to go straight and break free is present but, by film's end, it is clear there is a good force, led by a good man, trying to take down bad people.

And while the ending of the film plays with the ambiguity a bit much, turning the noble FBI character played by Jon Hamm into a conniving and heartless bastard and the failed-straight man robber, played by Ben Affleck, as the escaped and free, in the literal and figurative sense, survivor.

But, unlike Heat, Hamm is clearly good and Affeck is clearly bad and Hamm has no desires to change. When it came down to it in Heat, Al Pacino, the cop, and Robert De Niro, the robber, were the same person, the yin and yang, forced to come together and clash. No so much here with Hamm and Affleck. Most of Affleck's tensions come not from Hamm's pursuit but from the fellow soldiers he grew up with (and, in some cases, related to) who see his idea of change as betrayal to the city and themselves.

I find the ending of the film to be a bit flawed because it does turn this honest story of bad people trying to be good into an anti-hero wish fulfillment piece BUT, if you take that piece out, what you get is a very anti-Heat story of loyalty and how it is bred into the culture we surround ourselves with.

That is not to say that The Town is not very much like Heat in many ways. The most important part is the city in which both films take place: Heat takes place in Michael Mann's Los Angeles, a city that becomes personified in all of Mann's films, most especially Heat where the never ending traffic, skyscrapers and industrial parks serve as a character in itself.

The same is true of The Town's Boston community of Charlestown, the US (and probably world's) capital for bank robberies. Running through this town is the loyalty and suspicions of folks who haven't left for generations. However, adding a slick dynamic to the film that runs in parallel to Heat's use of the wide expanses of Los Angeles, Charlestown and Boston-proper is an old city where everything is squeezed in and crowded ... this plays heavily on everything from action set pieces to the function of dark shadows and blind corners as metaphor.

It also helps that both Heat and The Town have characters who sole motivation is crime (and or stopping crime) but these similarities seem to be recognized in a five second clip of Heat itself playing in the background of one scene in the film.

Ben Affleck, who wrote, starred and directed, clearly knows his location inside and out being a Boston native himself. If directed by anyone else The Town might lack the density it requires since Boston is so integral to the heart and soul of the picture. Those who doubted Affleck's credentials as a writer with Good Will Hunting can have those doubts laid to rest as Boston's lower class culture is just as realistic and well written here as it was then. In fact, you almost feel like Will Hunting could be living in the depths of Charlestown and could bump into one of its characters.

I will never go so far as to say The Town is as good as Heat but it certainly gets close in quality. And the once Oscar darling Ben Affleck was denied many an honor (as he was this year with Argo) from the Academy: the script is dense and unique, the acting is top of the line (from many involved but especially from Affleck and Jeremy Renner, who DID get an Academy Award nomination for this film), and the direction is deft and inspiring. The Town is not a masterpiece by any means but it is about as close as it gets.

1 comment:

  1. I love this one, too. If you get a chance, get your hands on the more recent BD release that contains the extended cut and alternative ending. This may or may not be the director's preferred cut, but it's definitely one that more than fixes those things you have issue with. That Blu-ray also has the theatrical and first extended cuts. It's the one worth having, Will. Fine review.

    p.s., if I get a chance, The American Cinematheque will be showing a double-feature of 'Argo' and 'The Town' on the 17th at The Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. I'll ask which is his preferred ;-).


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