The Town, Venice Film Festival
Thursday 09 September 2010
Three years ago, actor turned director Ben Affleck surprised critics with his highly accomplished debut feature, Gone Baby Gone, a disturbing, morally ambiguous drama about the search for an abducted kid. The Town, a thriller about Boston bank robbers, is a more conventional assignment, but it underlines Affleck's credentials as an actor's director. The plotting is strictly formulaic. What gives the film heft and pathos are the character performances and Affleck's vivid use of his Boston locations.
Affleck himself plays the lead: cocksure gang leader Doug MacRay who specialises in explosive and intricately planned heists. His gang may be capable of violence, but the film-makers go out of their way to let us know that, beneath the bravado, he is a decent and intelligent man.
Attempts at combining hardboiled action with reflective and emotional scenes are only fitfully effective. At times, it's as if we're watching two different movies stitched together. In one, Doug and the gang are pitting their wits against the equally brutal and unscrupulous FBI special agent Frawley (played by Jon Hamm of Mad Men fame). In the other, we're in the realm of soulful romantic drama as Doug, somewhat improbably, woos the beautiful bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), whom his gang had briefly taken hostage. Between the many shoot-outs and car chases, all staged with plenty of élan, are ponderous scenes showing Claire digging away at her allotment.
What is admirable about The Town is the attention to detail. Every character has a back story. Jeremy Renner (who excelled as the bomb-disposal expert in The Hurt Locker) is in typically febrile mode as Doug's childhood friend and henchman, Jem, a borderline psychotic who nonetheless has a sensitive side.
There are two tremendous cameos. Chris Cooper excels as Doug's father, Stephen MacRay. Languishing behind bars in a maximum-security prison, Stephen is an embittered and taciturn figure fighting to maintain his dignity. Equally striking is British actor Pete Postlethwaite as "the florist", the vicious criminal mastermind who oversees every heist.
At its best, The Town rekindles memories of those 70s American thrillers like Serpico or Charley Varrick in which characterisation was as important as action. However, the storytelling is often undermined by posturing, macho dialogue.
Based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, the film suffers from the same identity crisis as its vacillating lead character. Just as Doug can't decide whether he's a tough guy or a sensitive, introspective type, the film-makers seem uncertain what tone they're trying to strike. The juxtaposition of romantic scenes and big set-pieces is often disconcerting. Although Affleck elicits some very strong performances and shows a flair for filming action, what The Town ultimately lacks is a sense of where it is going or why. Affleck has clearly tried to put a personal imprint on his material and to make his second feature more than just another cops-and-robbers movie. It is hard, though, to transcend a storyline that is quite so routine.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Exodus Gods and Kings casting controversy: Ridley Scott would never cast 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
- 2 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 3 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
- 4 Scientists predict green energy revolution after incredible new graphene discoveries
- 5 Michael Buerk wishes he'd killed Jimmy Savile when he had the chance - by pushing him overboard a cruise ship
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
Jennifer Lawrence scores first UK top 40 single with Hunger Games track 'The Hanging Tree'
Exodus Gods and Kings casting controversy: Ridley Scott would never cast 'Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such' in lead role
The Fall, series 2, episode 3 – TV review: The Gillian Anderson drama is starting to push the realms of plausibility, but who cares?
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Obama: The only people with the right to object to immigration are Native Americans
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Sarah Vine criticises lesbian mother Jack Monroe: 'If she was unsure about her sexuality, she should have taken greater precautions'
Ukip mocked after mistaking Westminster Cathedral – for a mosque