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Monday, September 20, 2010

Katy Perry and Elmo

Movie Review - The Town

What is it about crime that makes it the ultimate cinematic drug?  Is taking money without doing much work the American dream?  Do we feel better about our violence if there's profit from it?  Or, do we just want to prove that chicks dig "bad boys"?  Whatever the reason, there's no denying the fact that most of Hollywood's crime thrillers will do their best to hammer home one fact - that the people who commit these acts have no escape; that these acts are an addiction that has taken hold of them.  These criminals aren't necessarily bad people, they are hopelessly trapped in the path their actions have set for them.

If you talk to anyone who studies the concept of addiction, they'll tell you something that also rings true of most alpha criminals in these films.  No matter what your addiction is, the high that comes from it will decrease over time.  This can be a steady process or a complete drop, but at some point your brain will build up a resistance to that which once was a thrill.  The positive effects will wear off, and you'll be left to choose whether you're still in or if you're going to try to get out.  Attempting the latter may leave you chasing that "last job", and trying to break free of the cycle you've walked into.

The Town, directed and co-written by star Ben Affleck, follows a thief who is at that point.  We open as he and his crew - including a token driver, a token electric man, and his violent-yet-loyal boyhood friend played by Jeremy Renner - make their move on a Boston bank.  It's quickly evident that there's a disconnect between the lead male characters, because one is loud and brutal while the other is polite and tender - particularly toward the female bank manager played by the lovely Rebecca Hall.  Before we even see their faces, we can tell that these two characters are on opposite sides of their addiction.  One man is enjoying the rush, one just wants to get it over with and walk away.

So, when Affleck's Doug (affectionately known as Dougie to most) takes an interest in Hall's Claire, it becomes difficult for the viewer to be sure of their feelings about him.  We know that he does bad things, but he seems to be more in touch with his human side than the characters around him.  His motives for meeting the girl are not pure, but he is not out for blood.  Despite his tender side, Doug struggles to stay clean.  When Claire tells him that some guys in the projects are giving her trouble, he immediately goes to Renner's Jim and tells him "they're going to hurt some people".  It's entirely possible that he needs Jim to take care of this because he no longer has the heart to do it, but he is still at fault.  He knows what Jim is capable of when he walks through his door, and he makes the choice to follow in Jim's ways.  In his mind, there is no other way to deal with the situation.

If I were naming the four most important characters in the film, the fourth - with apologies to Jon Hamm's entertaining FBI agent - is The Town itself.  Doug and Jim's home is Charlestown, an allegedly notorious side of Boston, which is shown to be a one way town in which the only way to survive is submitting to the crime addiction.  A "Florist" played by Pete Postlethwaite is the Kingpin of this connected empire, which goes all the way down to Jim's sister (played by a whored-up Blake Lively) who runs Oxycontin on the streets.  She's also been Doug's girl since their childhood, extending the myth that he can not escape from this written path in life.  The Town is painted as a trap, and all of the people around Doug do their best to remind him that he has no right to life in the outside world.  This again parallels the drug culture, where any addict who feels trapped will tell you that others will always see them as a user, no matter what they say or do.

None of this is new territory for the crime genre, but The Town at least stays fresh in its execution.  The chase scenes and shootouts are technically sound - though the final heist does seem a little spastic - and the characters are fleshed out well.  The film balances its action and drama well, and the pacing seems right on.  The cast all do fine in their roles, and Affleck - despite his sullied reputation - is a very capable lead.  Renner is the highlight of the cast, stealing scenes in a role that seems distant from his star-making role in last year's The Hurt Locker.

The Town succeeds in most regards, even if it doesn't answer our questions about cinema's crime addiction.  Affleck hasn't matched his directorial debut (the thought-provoking Gone Baby Gone), but he's made a film that's both an effective drama and am exciting thriller, cementing himself as a director on the rise that audiences should be aware of.