J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Boston Banking: The Town

How does Red Sox Nation make ends meet? Evidently, armed robbery is the leading source of employment in the Charlestown section of Boston. Everyone might be doing it, but Doug MacRay’s gang is good at it. One particularly ambitious bank job earns them a whole lot of federal attention in Ben Affleck’s The Town (trailer here), which opens nationwide this Friday.

MacRay’s combination armored car/bank heist went just about exactly as planned. However, when Jem Coughlin, his edgy childhood friend, briefly takes the bank manager hostage, it later raises security questions for the crooks. While shadowing the shell-shocked Claire Keesey, circumstances lead MacRay to ask her out. Naturally, things start to develop, which is hard to explain to Coughlin, who still hopes MacRay will get back together with his sister Krista, an oxy-addled trampy single mother.

Harboring ambitions of a new life, MacRay wants out, but Charlestown’s local crime boss "Fergie the Florist" has other ideas. He has a source that can get them into the cash vault inside Fenway Park, a Boston stadium that became a minor footnote in sports history due to the semi-pro team that plays there. Of course, getting in is the easy part. Needless to say, the dogged Special Agent Adam Frawley is out to complicate matters further.

Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, Town is not exactly the most original story, but the execution is consistently sharp. Effectively weaving back and forth from a moody crime drama and a shoot-‘em-up heist movie, Affleck again directs himself and a noteworthy ensemble cast quite well. His MacRay basically comes in three speeds: coolly down-to-business, sullen, and armed & seething, but frankly that is about right for a heist noir protagonist.

However, Town’s real star might be Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, who supplies a jolt of electricity whenever he is on-screen as MacRay’s G-man nemesis. A truly fine ensemble piece, the talented Rebecca Hall is also somehow able to scratch out some memorable scenes for the “woe-is-me” Keesey (much as she did in Nicole Holofcener’s self-important mish-mash Please Give). Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper add further colorful texture as Fergie and MacRay’s incarcerated father, respectively. As for Blake Lively, she certainly looks like an armored carload of trouble as sister Krista.

Clearly, Affleck has a visible affinity for Town’s noir-ish genre and Boston setting. He also seems to be working his way through the city’s official neighborhoods, following-up his acclaimed Dorchester-set directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. It appears to be a fairly rich vein for him to mine. Indeed, Town is pretty solid all the way around, featuring some scene-stealing work from Hamm. It opens wide today (9/17), including the Village East here in New York.

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