Oscar Talk: The Town

E: Some time in the 90s, I got lost driving out of Boston late at night, and ended up in Charlestown.  “You wanna get outa heyah right away” the cop I asked for directions told me.  Charlestown in the 90s wasn’t really a place where you wanted to ask someone who wasn’t a cop for directions.  This guy actually got back into his cruiser and made me follow him to the highway – that’s how eager he was to get a single girl out of the town.

And, as the clever heist flick The Town tells us, that’s the time that Charlestown was the bank robbery capital of the U.S.  Haven’t seen The Town?  Well, my friends, you’re in luck.  It’s on dvd, and it is a nice little piece of work.

Once upon a time, Doug MacRay had everything going for him. He transcended a rocky start (runaway mom, criminal dad) to become a bit of alocal celebrity with a bright future.   And then, somehow, it all went south, and he ended up digging gravel for a living.  So with his best friend James, he came up with a new plan: robbing banks.  And his highly professional crew of 4 does swimmingly, until James starts getting a little crazy, improvises and takes a hostage during one of their jobs, bank manager Claire.  They let her go, but James becomes increasingly fixated on Claire, fearing that she can identify their voices.  So Doug decides to do a little recognizance, and stalks the of course beautiful young woman.  Along the way, he falls in love.

Those are the basics.  And that’s a pretty exciting base.  Throw in the whole culture of Charlestown, an increasingly twitchy James,  ever more complicated heists, family secrets, the dogged pursuit of the FBI, and Pete Posthlethwait’s final,  bone chilling performance as a local crime boss, and well, you have a terrific and exciting thrill ride.  There’s clever “can they pull it off?” twists against some stupendous odds, and some freaking fantastic local scenery, not to mention the edge of your seat car chase fairly near where I got lost that one time.  It’s just a smart, well made, enjoyable movie.

I had a few little issues with the movie, of course.  I’m not entirely sold on the love story between Doug and Claire – it moved so lowly that I wasn’t even sure that they were flirting, until suddenly they were in bed.  Not that I object to slow moving romance; you just want to know there’s a spark, you know, and they don’t always sparkle as I’d wish.   I will say, however, I really enjoyed where the movie took them by the end.  I can’t figure out why these guys are all dirt poor even after pulling this many heists.  Do they just not get that much money? What’s the point?  Can it really all go down your nose that fast?  Doug doesn’t do drugs anymore, so where’s his share going?  Does Posthlethwaite’s Florist take that deep of a cut?

But those concerns are trivial.  Affleck, starring as MacRay, anchors the movie nicely.  Titus Welliver costars as a local – and I do mean local – FBI agent.  John Hamm is the agent in charge.  (I’m sure most tv fans will be thrilled to see the suave Hamm, but I got all giddy to see Welliver, whose character on The Good Wife I don’t even like.) Gossip Girls‘ Blake Lively does impressive work far, far out of type as a drugged up, trampy young mother, sister to Renner’s character and occasional lover to Affleck’s.  Her scenes with Hamm, in particular, are pretty electric. Chris Cooper excels (as ever) in his brief appearance as Doug’s tough guy dad.  There’s even a nice cameo from Victor Garber, Affleck’s tv father-in-law.

Many people – myself included – thought that this smart, grungy thriller would be nominated for Best Picture, and that it could also receive attention for its screenplay.  It didn’t.  I can’t be sorry that my beloved Winter’s Bone made the cut instead, but this movie delivers on its promise, and is a pleasure to watch.  Jeremy Renner received the film’s sole nomination, for supporting actor.  I must admit, I’m a little surprised that this redux of the loose cannon (something he did so much more memorably last year in The Hurtlocker) garnered Renner his second consecutive nomination.  I admire him tremendously, but I’m not entirely sure why he’s there, not over Matt Damon in True Grit or even Justin Timberlake in The Social Network.  I’m much higher on the movie itself than any one part of it.  That Ben Affleck; you know, he really knows how to turn out a movie.  I honestly find myself a bit tongue tied trying to explain it, so let me just say this.  It’s a really good time.  Go get lost in The Town.

3 comments on “Oscar Talk: The Town

  1. Jeff says:

    Nice review. I agree Renner was amazing in Hurt Locker – nice to see him recognized. I haven’t seen this one but I will.

    Loved your last sentence!

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