Opening A Can in Beantown
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner
By Robert Patrick
I love Boston crime films. Everyone has a faded Red Sox hat on, some sort of sleeve tattoo of Ireland, and a gravy-tongued accent. Ben Affleck, whose career is marbled with more fat than a cheap cut of steak, only makes good films when they are set in the clover city of Massachusetts, his hometown. The less sociopathic Affleck brother is a pretty great director, as it turns out, and he carves out his newest picture with the steady hand of a hunter skinning a new trophy. And thankfully, this film isn’t a filmic adaptation William Faulkner’s “The Town”, which I initially had thought it was. Although it would be amazing to see Affleck play a literary character from Mississippi, I digress.
“The Town” is about a cunning group of robbers, banded together in Charlestown, that are aficionados in thievery. The head of the motley crew of bandits is Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), an elite con whose logical skill-set balances out the rest of the group’s barbarous lechery. Jem Caughlin (Jeremy Renner) is the joker of the group with a sharpened cage of teeth not unlike that of a piranha. This character has the patience of a guillotine’s blade. The outlaws essentially are the most rotten slag imaginable.
Because Affleck is in his own element, playing with the building blocks of Boston, he knows how to construct his story and where to start his foundation. There are sequences in this film that are some of the best of the year. The dialogue is syrupy and visceral and the suspense soaks into every groove and crack of Beantown’s streets. The authenticity is not in the least bit pliable thanks to Affleck’s inspired direction.
“The Town” may be a little stupid in points, but it is a savant in other areas, such as creating artisan fluidity in action sequences. Everyone has seen their fair share of car chases in films – I’m practically desensitized every time a cart of fruit is ran over at this point – but in Affleck’s film the entire action seems fresh and textured. This is pretty outstanding for me, especially considering vehicle chases are my version of being hit with a horse tranquilizer. The sound mixing, something I generally don’t bring up, is flat out miraculous during scenes of clattering gunfire and churning steel. The whole production is marvelously crafted. But the acting, the acting is the thing to write home about.
Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of a vehement hooligan with the impulsiveness of a Kodiak bear will brand your eyes. The slick, twisted and wholly unpredictable persona engulfs his visage to the point where his maw is curled in madness and his eyes are vapid as the empty pockets of a pool table. There are no two ways about it that he should be nominated for his performance this year. Affleck is his usual tepid self, however less blank and strangely obtuse than he normally is. And if we’re going to talk about surprise performances, you have to include Blake Lively, who gives, much to my surprise, one of the better performances this year. There are facial tics and fluttering mannerisms that could look contrived when acted out by others, but Lively is exquisite as the drug addicted sister of Jem. I could go on, reading off a rolodex of players in this film, but then I would be as entertaining as the index of a book, so I will end here.
To be perfectly honest, this is a film that, because of its combined excellences, made me feel most at home in a theater this year. I sheathed my pen and forgot about everything for an entire 120-minutes. Villains with more masks than the entire catalog of episodes from “Scooby Doo”? Check. Dialogue so sharp that it clips your ears? Check. Jeremy Renner usurping any sort of humanistic qualities? Check. Yeah, you better be multitasking on Fandango right now.