I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. I used to have a massive crush on Ben Affleck. I mean MASSIVE! Just to give you an idea of the intense LOVE I had for this man . . . up until very recently, I had a rather large poster over my bed that may or may not have looked something like this . . .
. . . and a smaller one in my living room, that may or may not have looked something like this . . .
Then something happened. A little movie came out. For argument’s sake, lets just call that movie . . . Gigli.
All of the sudden, it was considered less than “cool” to have a “massive crush” on Ben Affleck. Friends who used to be fairly supportive of my little obsession, started teasing me mercilessly about it. And whenever I had boys over (not that THEY ever really liked those posters anyway), my fandom was a subject of constant ridicule.
And yet, I stuck with my guns, and hung on to those posters . . . for a little while longer, at least. Then, shortly after I moved back to New Jersey, I sold them to a lovely gay couple at my Aunt’s Summer Yard Sale. I like to believe they are in a better place now . . . one free of judgment and Gigli-related abuse.
Now, I have yet to see Ben Affleck’s directorial debut film, Gone Baby Gone . . .
. . . but I’ve read enough reviews and watched enough award shows to know that (1) it was pretty spectacular; and (2) much of its spectacular-ness can be attributed to what I would like to call “Ben’s Mad Directorial Skills.”
So, when the trailers for The Town started showing up in theaters, and I saw that it was, not only directed by, but also starred my former love,Ben Affleck. And when I saw that the cast included the Dapper Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm . . .
. . . the enigmatic, Jeremy Renner . . .
. . . and Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, playing a strung out, much dirtier, ho bag than Serena van der Woodsen could EVER be . . .
. . . I just knew that I HAD to see this film! And, let me tell you, I am THRILLED I did!
Based on a novel by Chuck Hogan, entitled Prince of Thieves . . .
(which the publishers have since cleverly renamed The Town, and slapped Ben Affleck’s pretty, but gritty, mug on the cover)
. . . The Town follows career criminal, Doug McRay (played by Affleck), as he tries repeatedly to “go straight.” But when you live in a town like Charlestown, Massachusetts — which churns out bank robbers and crooks, like Yale University churns out lawyers and politicians — and when your best friends are THESE GUYS . . .
. . . “going straight” is easier said than done.
The film begins, as most films of this genre tend to begin, with a “routine” bank robbery. And it only takes a few minutes, for us viewers to realize just what good criminals, McCray and his crew are. From the creepy face-obscuring masks they wear on their mugs, to the inside men who disable the security cameras immediately upon their arrival, to the way they torch the place upon leaving, to destroy all the evidence, it’s clear that these are NO amateurs.
That is one UGLY nun!
Yet, despite all of their painstaking preparation and skill, McCray’s crew runs into a little snag during the heist, and is forced to take a hostage. They decide on Assistant Bank Manager, Claire Keesey (played by Rebecca Hall).
They blindfold Claire, and pack her into the getaway car, but, ultimately, let her go. Afterward, some of the crew express concern about Claire, and her ability to identify them to the FBI. These concerns are intensified when a look at Claire’s driver’s license (which they stole) reveals that she lives in the neighboring town, just a few blocks away from the crew’s headquarters. McCray’s best friend, the hotheaded, but loyal-to-a-fault, Jem Coughlin (played by Jeremy Renner), whose idea it was to take Claire as a hostage in the first place, offers to “take care of her.” McCray, however, doesn’t want to see Claire get hurt (if such a thing could be avoided) and offers to take care of the situation, himself.
So, McCray stalks Claire a bit, and figures out that she leads a fairly solitary life (no quirky “Best Gal Pal” in this movie). Eventually, he follows her into a laundromat (where all the cutest movie couples meet), charms her a bit, and asks her out for a drink.
Well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. Of course, they fall in love! (Duh!) But what’s interesting about the way this plotline is acted and directed, is that, while certainly cliche, the relationship between Doug and Claire doesn’t seem all that contrived. Affleck and Hall have a real natural chemistry. Right away, you can see what appeals to these two characters about eachother.
Claire is quietly unassuming, and incredibly straitlaced, without seeming judgmental or self-righteous. She gardens during her spare time, and volunteers at the local Boys and Girls Club. Doug, for all his tough beginnings, and dark past, is surprisingly shy and sweet. He listens to Claire when she speaks, and genuinely expresses a desire to take care of her.
And I’ll be darned if this odd couple didn’t end up having a remarkably normal courtship! They go out to dinner together. They take walks in the park. They go out for coffee. He buys her a pretty diamond necklace (probably with dirty money). They have nice gentle sex in Claire’s Pottery Barn-decorated bedroom. Bank robberies and hostages-takings aside, Doug and Claire are probably a lot like you and your significant other.
Suddenly, Doug’s desire to get out of the “racket,” becomes more than just an empty platitude. Now, he really means it. Because, now, he really has something, or, rather, SOMEONE to lose if he fails. Now, if he could just get through this “One Last Job” (well . . . maybe two).
It may sound odd, but, believe me when I say this: The Town is the perfect date movie. It’s got enough action, chase scenes, explosions, and crook versus cop shoot-em-ups to please even the manliest of men. At the same time, it boasts an intelligent script, complex likeable characters, some VERY pretty faces, and a surprisingly adorable romance, all of which are sure to satisfy even the girliest of females.
In addition to great plotting, exciting action, and a heartwarming romance between its two leads, The Town also offers a very strong supporting cast. Jon Hamm is wonderful, as the tough-as-nails, gruff, and very-un Don Draper-like FBI Agent, Adam Frawley. A lesser actor could have made this a very forgetable role. But Hamm’s charm, intelligence, wit and natural grace, help make the Frawley character more likeable than a cop in a film about a criminal-with-a-heart-of-gold has any right to be.
Speaking of characters that you like more than you should, Jeremy Renner does a remarkable job of making Jem Coughlin a three-dimensional and tragic figure. In many ways, Renner’s character is very similar to the one Affleck himself inhabited back when he played opposite Matt Damon in the spectacular Good Will Hunting (except Renner’s character is armed and dangerous). Unlike McRay, Coughlin has resigned himself to a life of crime, running from the cops, and being relatively poor. And yet, despite his knowledge that his best friend is smarter than he is, and perhaps destined for a better future, Coughlin still remains loyal to McRay. He would literally do anything for him, even if that meant going to jail or losing his life. Though you might not agree with his lifestyle choices, you’ve gotta respect a guy like that.
And then there’s Blake Lively, who absolutely impressed me with her portrayal of strung out ho-bag / baby mama, Krista Coughlin.
I’m SERIOUS! This was NOT an easy role to play. In the wrong hands, this role could have been at the very least, annoying, and at the worst, positively laughable. But Blake brings Krista to life. Her Boston accent is authentic. Her breathy intonations, and pathetic attempts at seduction, speak to a life spent on one’s backside, screwing crooks, popping pills, and inhaling toxic fumes. Blake more than held her own, during her scenes with Affleck, Hamm, and Renner.
And you know what else? Blake was FUNNY! A few of her lines had me laughing out loud. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
Of course, no crime caper would be complete without Pete Postlewaite, of The Usual Suspects fame.
There’s just something about this guy’s face and demeanor — a hidden menace, perhaps. Whatever, it is, the dude always manages to scare the stuffing out of me, even when he is doing nothing more exciting than cutting the thorns off a rose.
In short, The Town is highly entertaining and intriguing film. The acting is nearly flawless, the plotting is tight, the action is high octane, and the directing is commendable. Its enough to make me almost wish that I never sold those Ben Affleck posters . . . almost.
The Town is in theaters now. Will YOU see it?