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Identity crisis

Astonishingly, I enjoyed The Town even though it is a heist movie with set-piece shoot-outs and car chases and even though it doesn’t break any new ground, which is just such a faff anyhow.

25 September 2010

12:00 AM

25 September 2010

12:00 AM

Astonishingly, I enjoyed The Town even though it is a heist movie with set-piece shoot-outs and car chases and even though it doesn’t break any new ground, which is just such a faff anyhow.

Astonishingly, I enjoyed The Town even though it is a heist movie with set-piece shoot-outs and car chases and even though it doesn’t break any new ground, which is just such a faff anyhow. Have you ever tried breaking new ground? It’s exhausting plus, after a certain age, it is very hard on the knees. So this isn’t fresh, exactly, but it is tense and exciting and well performed and you do end up caring about the people you’ve been manipulated into caring about. I ask you: what more could you want from a trip to the cinema? Unless, of course, it is something that makes you think, but that, too, is vastly overrated. And a faff.


It’s directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars and co-wrote the script. (Where do these people find the energy?) Affleck plays Doug MacRay, who lives in ‘The Town’, which is Charlestown, a poor, Irish-American, working-class neighbourhood just outside Boston, which, the film tells us, produces more bank robbers per capita than anywhere else in the world. Doug is a bank robber, just as his father was before him, and he is tattooed and a hoodlum and all that, but he is also smart, reflective and extremely buff. Has Affleck always been this buff? I’d certainly do him, and bugger the knees. I could worry about those later. I might even brush my hair. Anyhow, Doug wants out from the criminal world, wants to break the cycle, but he has his work cut out. He is part of a gang whose members are lifelong friends and are, in a way, his family. He is particularly bonded with Jem (Jeremy Renner), who is more sadistically trigger-happy, but they are like brothers. Where should Doug’s loyalties lie? Doug is not a new type, but the thing about The Town is that it does these old types so seductively, and always just this side of sentimentality.

The film opens with a fast-paced heist as the gang, in spooky, rubberised Halloween skeleton masks, do over a bank. They are not novices but, on impulse, Jem takes a bank employee as a hostage although, abduction not really being their thing, they quickly release her. The employee is Claire (Rebecca Hall), who, it turns out, is a local girl, albeit one who lives in a more gentrified street. Jem is antsy about what Claire has seen and heard, and what she might have already told FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm, from Mad Men; also extremely buff), who is determined to crack the case. Jem frets: did she notice or hear anything that could identify them? Doug offers to take care of it. He trails her, sizing her up, and then, in the launderette, they start talking. Romance blossoms, and it is a delicious, beautifully handled romance. He quizzes her about what she might have seen and heard while trying to appear as if he isn’t quizzing her; we can see how good it makes him feel to be with her; how he craves her honesty. Of course, as their relationship grows, so, too, does the tension, and our anxiety, because we are in the know while Claire is not in the know. Will she find out about Doug’s true identity? How? When? What will she do? There’s a particular scene in a café, to do with Jem and a tattoo; a tattoo which could give the whole game away, but will she see it? I was right on the edge of my seat. More importantly, I didn’t want her to see a thing.

The Town weaves all its threads so competently that I’m happy to forgive its clichés, its types (Claire is a bit of a sickly goody-goody who helps poor children) and its improbabilities. How come the gang opens fire with machine guns on droves of oncoming cops, but no cop gets killed? And although the script is generally well written there are a few clangers, as in: ‘I need your help. You can never ask me what it’s about. We’re gonna hurt some people.’ That said, Affleck’s performance is such a quality performance he can pull off a man who is gonna hurt some people, but never loses sight of what hurting these people means when it comes to the bigger picture.

Possibly, Affleck wanted to make a film about the culture of crime, how we are what we are born into and, if so, he probably hasn’t pulled it off, but he has pulled off a neat, suspenseful and entertaining thriller. I was not bored, I did not look at my watch, I felt it mattered, and I would also do Jon Hamm, although probably not in the same week. Actually, strike that out, because I so would. Who am I trying to kid?


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