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The Town

It’s always good to see a bank raid, hostages being taken, divided loyalties, and unpredictable eruptions of violence, as well as throwaway sex, well-conceived car chases, things being bullet-riddled, perilous and unlikely attempts at going straight and escaping your past, prison scenes, grim locale nightspots and murky revelations. The Town is endowed with a flashy, impressive array of such things, and, crucially: good, slick-yet-raw direction and fine performances all round*.

The Town, as it begins, concerns Ben Affleck and cohorts disguisedly barging into a bank and emptying the vault. The combination twiddler: Rebecca Hall, who is soon a hostage, briefly, as they make a getaway. Hall, it turns out, got a bit of a look at the miscreants, in particular the giveaway tattoo Jeremy Renner helpfully displays on the back of his neck. And she’d ‘…recognise the robbers if I heard their voices.’ Even though she swiftly ends up in a fairly preposterous relationship with a perturbed Affleck, who needs to glean her state-of-mind and whether she has any incriminating memories and ends up romancing her and cajoling her out of her disquiet instead.

Jon Hamm is basically a dyspeptic Don Draper minus the complex charm (and a few IQ points) as the FBI hound going after the crims. He assuages Hall and gently presses her for relevant info, but she’s soon being coached by Affleck to keep schtum and avoid being shipped-off into a witness protection nightmare, ‘Cleveland, Arizona, somewhere safe.’ Disappointingly, Hamm isn’t given much to chew on and has one decent speech throughout (and even then he’s being lined up to have them casually snipped by Affleck, who generously gives himself every single decent bit of dialogue in the film). He’s a bit of a neutered, hollow, generic character that Hamm couldn’t conceivably do any more with.

The rest of the cast seem to be on a long-leash. It’s good to see Pete Postlethwaite turn up as an indubitable Irish kingpin masquerading as an indubitable Irish kingpin florist. He has a sidekick with bleach-blonde hair. What is it that’s so worrying about bleach-blonde hair on a heavy? Chris Cooper has one perfectly measured scene to impress as Affleck’s finished dad. Rebecca Hall is fine apart from (see footnote) a fatal drawback, and Jeremy Renner is excellent as Affleck’s fuseworn best friend. Blake Lively is also clearly destined for (possible awards consideration?) Evan Rachel-Wood-esque great things.

There’s a rigorous refusal to break new ground here and a stubborn commitment to simply doing a good, perfectly unoriginal but estimable job. Nothing will surprise, every plot development is within the reach of easy guesswork but the film never drags and manages to cleverly employ endlessly reused and recycled genre mainstays. Affleck wants out of a dead future and the inevitability of prison-rot, but, of course, there are myriad nefarious influences that need him where he is and Hamm somewhat sluggishly in his wake. And then there’s Hall, who is a hopeful manifestation of a way out. Despite these familiar arc touchstones, The Town works on its own terms. 

And Ben Affleck does a good job of both helming a relatively logistically-fraught enterprise and delivering a believable performance as a complex, emotionally tangled character with demons, living and dead, plaguing his high-stakes life. With The Town, his second film as director, he’s added a superior example to the genre.

*Rebecca Hall simply cannot bring herself to maintain any semblance of a Boston accent, and often, not unamusingly, seems to simply give up mid-sentence, bored, and slips back into her ‘normal’ delivery. Which wouldn’t be that much of an issue, if only she didn’t sound quite a lot like Keira Knightley. It’s quite embarrassing and almost mangles pretty much every single scene she’s in. You’re looking for the boom to slip into view as someone shouts ‘Cut!’ Well I was.

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