(Although I tried to refrain from spoilers, the review might include some minor ones)
Ben Affleck has been on the spotlight during the last weeks, what with his new film - Argo - being released and getting good reviews. Ever since Affleck released his first directing effort (Gone Baby Gone), critics and audiences have been surprised by his skills behind the camera, as opposed to his talent (or lack of it) in front of it. And I agree. Gone Baby Gone was a well-acted, skillfully directed, thought-provoking drama. So, with all this Affleck talk revived, I decided to check his second film, The Town.
The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachussets, where a group of childhood friends use their free time to rob banks. The group is led by Doug MacCray (Affleck), a former hockey prospect whose father is in jail. The other 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 of the group barely get lines or screen-time. Their robberies are ordered by Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), a local crime lord 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. As they wonder if they have any heat on them, 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 two additional jobs, the first one by Jem, and the second one by Fergie. All the while, FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is on his tail.
Now, if you've gotten this far, you've probably noticed my main issue 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 follow a template 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"
Even elements of its narrative and plot are borrowed from similar films: noble criminal falls for female mark, 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 surely hinders its overall effect. On the good side, Affleck does show his directing skills. Most notably, the chase and action scenes are well handled and intense. Plus, he also handles the lead role quite well. Most of the cast delivers, although I'm not sure that Jeremy Renner's performance was Oscar-caliber (he was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar). The film also features one of the last performances by the great Pete Postlethwaite. His performance, although brief, was pretty good.
So, all in all, the film is a decent effort, brought down by its own formula. I know it's based on a novel, but a bit of originality on its script wouldn't have hurt. Grade: I'm torn between a low B- or a high C+. I'll leave it at that.
(All pictures belong to Warner Bros. Pictures and its affiliates)