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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Town

Ben Affleck’s The Town has so many elements of an entertaining, watchable movie. There is strong acting from the whole ensemble cast (especially Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlewaite, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively.) The action scenes are well-directed and suspenseful, even as the robberies depicted become increasingly ridiculous. However, The Town has a fatal flaw which lingers over the film until it inevitably ends up destroying any good will the rest of the movie may have engendered.

The Town is the story of a gang of bank robbers based in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, an apparently real hotbed of violent criminal activity. Ben Affleck’s Doug is the details guy, knowing the names of the security guards and their weaknesses. His best friend (played by Jeremy Renner) is an unhinged wildcard who is quick to violence and has served nine years in jail. During a bank robbery they and their gang briefly take Rebecca Hall hostage. Worried that she might have seen something, Doug takes to spying on her, until he begins to feel bad for her and then fall for her.

Of course, eventually Hall’s character is going to find out that Affleck was part of the gang that terrorized her. But the film totally forsakes emotional realism in its depiction of her and Doug’s reactions.

The first sign of trouble is that the film seems to expect us to feel sorry for Doug, despite the fact that he’s an active and willing participant in several felonies, during which he is seen firing weapons indiscriminately into a crowd. Affleck never seems to realize that his character is a monster, an unforgivable error in judgment for both the actor and the director. The film goes to absurd lengths to try to convince the audience the Doug is incapable of leaving this lifestyle, but they fall flat.

Rebecca Hall does her damnedest to sell her character’s patently inexplicable actions, but it too falls short. And the film’s ending, which I have gone perhaps too far toward spoiling already, is among the most objectionable and stupid I have ever seen. It renders the whole film an exercise in amorality, misogyny and frivolity. It’s a damn shame, but The Town amounts to significantly less than the sum of its pieces.

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