Friday, September 17, 2010

Affleck's direction, not acting, makes 'The Town' watchable

By Steve Crum
Ben Affleck is a far better director (and writer) than he is an actor. Gone Baby Gone, the 2007 kidnapping drama wherein he directed his brother Casey, asserted such; The Town tries hard for confirmation. Affleck wrote, directed, and stars in The Town, an above average heist flick. Don’t be misled, however. The Town has exciting action sequences, including cleverly staged car chases and bank/armored car robberies. The down side is its long stretches of talk, talk pleading for edits. Just as we are beginning to nod off from a combination of Affleck’s slurring words and wordy dialogue, a cut to the bad guys dressed as nuns in fright masks awakens us again.
Affleck’s acting deficiency stems from his stiff body language and mumbling speech pattern. NOTE TO MR. AFFLECK: Ben, e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e. Project a bit, actually a lot more. You’ve written yourself a slew of intimate dialogue scenes in "The Town," yet you could barely be understood. Your rigid, tight lips make reading them impossible. Regards, A Wannabe Fan of Your Acting.
The Town’s real acting honors go not to Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who does an admirable, credible job as the lead FBI agent, but to Jeremy Renner, last year’s Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker, itself a Best Picture winner. You just cannot take your eyes off of Renner in any scene. He is a charismatic, dynamite performer. That he portrays a psychopathic killer, with a hint of Joe Pesci’s style, accentuates his presence even more.
The movie’s preamble explains the setting, the Boston suburb of Charlestown, a neighborhood that accounts for most of the 300 bank and armored car robberies occurring in Boston each year. In fact (we assume it is actual fact), Charlestown leads the nation in bank robbers, per capita. The robbers are highly organized, efficiently operating like a family run, albeit mafia-type, business, One of its lieutenants, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), has tried to break out of the “family,” but is harkened back again and again. He is estranged from his father (Chris Cooper), who is serving prison time.
MacRay has a tenuous relationship with his closest friend since childhood, Jem (Jeremy Renner), despite Jem’s tendency to explode at virtually nothing. After a heist wherein Jem viciously kills a bank officer, a witness (Rebecca Hall) just happens to cross paths with McCray at a laundramat. Who would have thunk? Since he was masked during the robbery, she does not recognize him, but he soon recognizes her. No surprise they fall in lust and love, and that is where this plot revelation ends. Their relationship becomes more and more complicated, let’s say.
Cut to FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is leading a task force to outwit and stop the slew of robberies. Each crime is planned and executed to the hilt, leaving behind zero clues. Robbery in this neighborhood has become precision art. Like most crime films, the back and forth interplay between police and criminals is key. Outwitting each other is the game.
The Town features powerhouse actors, besides those already mentioned, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively, and Titus Welliver. Postlethwaite is always a presence, and particularly strong here.
Add to the pluses a riveting, action score by composers Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley.
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: B-
Top Photo: Ben Affleck directs Jon Hamm on location.

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