There is, of course, that old theory that states there are only really 7 stories in the world anyway. In fact, researching that, there is also another theory that states all writing of any kind is built upon the foundation of just one single plot idea: Conflict and boy is there a lot of that in The Town.
The reason I say all this is because my feeling as the lights came up in the cinema directly after watching this film and the feeling that still lingers today, a week later when I write this, is that this film is basically Heat but set in gritty, monochrome Bawstan (or Boston for anyone without that accent). I don't think this would bother me so much if it didn't seem to strive so hard to let you know just how authentic it was, how gritty the streets really are and how if you step one foot into this part of Boston without being a ridiculously aggressive, tattooed Irish man then you're liable to get raped because that's just the way it is and you better get used to the idea. Meaning that, if a working class, isn't life hard, I just wish I had it better, earnest drama is what you want to make, then great but don't have such a cliched, obvious, usually reserved for lighter less important films type plot. Also, don't cast yourself, millionaire Ben Affleck, in the lead, but I'll get to that later.
First, the Heat comparison, I think, is valid:
1. Criminal who is really nice deep down and wants out - check,
2. Policeman who is a bit of a swine who will do anything to get his man - check,
3. Criminal falls in love with woman and wants to take her away from all this - check and 4. Film includes a large gun shoot out between crims and cops on busy streets - check.
Where The Town differs is, instead of Michael Mann's over-the-top, neon drenched, shiny Los Angeles, with exaggerated hammy performances from it's famous leads, that ends on an ambiguous, possibly down, ending; what you get is an earnest, striving to be taken seriously, supposedly realistic and dangerous portrayal of Boston lowlifes that ends like a normal Hollywood film. You can decide, by watching Heat and The Town back to back, which approach you prefer, both are perfectly valid and while both have some big flaws both are well made, engaging movies.
I use Heat as an example but, thinking about it further, my point really could be applied to any of the multitude of cops and robber films out there, not just Heat. They all have their standard plot beats and The Town is no different.
So, to The Town's plus points. Firstly, the direction. I have never really been an Affleck hater, I guess because I was a fan of Kevin Smith, I actually liked Jersey Girl, have never seen Gigli and never cared who he was or wasn't sleeping with or engaged to. While he has surely made tons of terrible films, the ones that I have chosen to watch with him in it, have been, for the most part, ok. I really liked his last, isn't Bawstan just the grittiest place on earth, film as a director, Gone Baby Gone and since he has taken his career down a notch from his Armageddon, J-Lo loving days, I think people are finally seeing what he can actually accomplish and where his talent lies. The Town is a well shot and well paced cops and robbers movie, with fine performances. I just wish it didn't take itself so seriously.
As for the actors, just as Casey Affleck seemed a little miscast, mainly because of his age and not his talent, in Gone Baby Gone, similarly Ben Affleck seems a little miscast in The Town. This is not to say he isn't good, he is, in fact the acting all round is superb, and he tries his damned hardest to pull off the soulful, I just want the money for a new life, Bank Robber but watching it, I couldn't help thinking 'Why's Ben Affleck trying to play it all tough and blue collar? he's Ben Affleck.'
I am not normally affected by people's personas, or previous work when I watch a film, especially if the acting is good but, imagine, if Jeremy Renner, the second lead in this film and an actor who is becoming known for aggressive, intense and action orientated roles suddenly did a happy-clappy, the sun is always shining, romantic comedy. Wouldn't you be watching it thinking "no, don't go out with him! runaway! within days you'll be hooked on smack, holding up liquor stores and having deep inner torment". Let me put it another way, you know when DeNiro tries to do comedy and it should work but it doesn't because he's Robert DeNiro, well there is an element of that in Ben Affleck's performance.
It also begs the question, why is Ben Affleck even making gritty crime dramas? If it was a more carefree caper then fine but I really think the over-furrowed brow, behold my pain style of this movie spoils it for me. Also why does the entire film have to look like an hour before dusk on a grey miserable day, can want-to-go-straight, violent thieves not feel angst and pain on a sunny day?
I will now stop harping on about the serious drama/bank robber caper disconnect that keeps rearing its head in this review, it's just every time I get close to stating positive things about this film which, I did enjoy, it just keeps popping up in the form of a loud resounding "BUT", however I shall endeavour to put that to rest and assume the point has been put across.
Despite all that, I can recognise its good points, John Hamm turns in a solid performance that hopefully will be the start of many in his future, post Mad Men film career, both actresses are excellent, with parts that seem to be trying to show the extreme of the different places life can take you, depending on which choices you make and Pete Postlethwaite steals the film in an extended cameo as a genuinely unnerving, black hearted evil florist. Finally, the multitude of greys in the colour palette of the cinematography, while not entirely to my taste, is consistent, giving the film an atmosphere that's akin to that coldish feeling you get coming home slightly damp from the drizzling rain which is difficult to shake.
Ultimately though, for me, the film was just too throwaway and I would never really need to see it again. I didn't love it but I didn't hate it, it was fine for what it was but it's not the searing in-depth portrayal of a society in decay drama that it thinks it is, it is a by-the-books, cliche filled cops and robbers movie that only lacks a charming, camera-winking, ladies man, comic relief.
6.5 out of 10 average Belgian waffles
Points from the Misses 9 out of 10 obviously tastier that I realised Belgian Waffles