THE TOWN, 2010
"Thieves" is the tale of four men -- thieves, rivals and friends -- being hunted through the streets of Boston by a tenacious FBI agent and a woman who might destroy them all. The book won the 2005 Hammett Prize for excellence in crime writing. "Thieves" is the tale of four men -- thieves, rivals and friends -- being hunted through the streets of Boston by a tenacious FBI agent and a woman who might destroy them all. The book won the 2005 Hammett Prize for excellence in crime writing.
Release Date: 17 September 2010
Whenever a new cops and robbers film comes out, the cynic in me begins to immediately recite that Charlie Kaufman adage about every film exploring the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person. 'See every cop movie ever made for examples of this.'
They're not all like that. Sometimes you get a film talking about how crime is the only option for the poor, sometimes talking about the seductive nature of it, sometimes both. But you don't have many options for crime films, one way or another, and a lot of filmmakers are willing to settle for the fact that they're making a crime film and isn't that good enough? What's more inherently dramatic than the underworld?
Ben Affleck's adaptation of Chuck Hogan's 'Prince of Thieves' doesn't make that mistake, and works more often than it doesn't, but not for a lack of stumbling.
The Charlestown area of Boston, it seems, producers more bank robbers per square mile than other place in America and Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is the best of the lot: intelligent, focused and prepared. Unfortunately for Doug he doesn't much like being a bank robber and when he meets a charming young bank manager (Rebecca Hall) Doug starts to think there might be a life outside of crime after all.
It can't be as simple as all that, of course. It's a crime film so that means someone somewhere must think all the complexities of the human soul must naturally be involved. For starters, Doug and Claire's first 'date' is when he forces her at gunpoint to open the safe in her bank so he can rob it, and then takes her hostage. It's uphill from there, though, as he seeks her out to make sure she can't identify him or any member of his crew and quickly becomes smitten with the normalcy and decency she represents.
Affleck proved his crime directing chops with 2007's "Gone Baby Gone," especially his ability to put together a taught, suspenseful action sequence and he's upped his game here. Whenever AK-47s come out "The Town" truly comes alive, with each heist sequence different from the others and all equally enjoyable. There are two parts to a heist film that make them fun – watching the individual parts work together like the inner workings of Swiss clock, and then watching the inevitable turn of bad luck that brings it all crashing down.
In "The Town's" case that's not just a plot dynamic but a true metaphor. While the heist portions work flawlessly, much of the character develop and extemporizing in between is woefully, painfully inadequate. Through a series of drawn out conversations we learn about Doug's past with his missing mother and criminal father doing hard time in LongPoke federal prison. Affleck and Hall try their best to make it work but the dialog in many of these sequences is so bad there's nothing to be salvaged.
Which is too bad because much of the acting is pretty good, especially from Affleck and his partner in crime Jim (Jeremy Renner). Any crime caper worth its salt has to have one out of control crazy man, and if you're going to play into that stereotype you'd better be able to do it well. Renner's made something of a career doing that and he's excellent in the role, paranoid and excitable and too, too violent. Better than that, his and Affleck's scenes have real chemistry, chemistry missing from much of the rest of the movie, mixing affection and bathos as Jim's past history of going to prison to protect Doug comes to light.
As with all caper films, ultimately there's no escaping the past, either for the genre or the characters in it. As much as Doug wants out he's got to complete One Last Job before he goes and we all know how often those go right.
If it just stuck to its guns "The Town" would be a fun, engaging heist film, but by reaching for more it ends up achieving less. Trying to outdo your genre is always a good thing, wanting to make a real film beyond just entertainment value is always a good thing. But aspirations aren't enough, you've also got to be able to execute and "The Town" isn't quite there