Thursday, April 07, 2011

On The Town

Doug MacRay is a good bad guy. Even though he's the leader of a violent takeover robbery gang, he's got sensitivity because he's got issues. His mom left when he was six, and he looked for her. His father, a criminal, is spending his life in prison. To say Doug is conflicted is not exaggerating. You get the feeling that Doug was born to be a criminal, and by god, he's good at it, but that he has the intelligence and nature about him to go straight. He just doesn't choose to because he's so good at being a crook.

Ben Affleck as Doug: good bad, or bad good?

We meet Doug in the opening scene of The Town, while he and his gang are robbing a bank. They wear Skeletor masks, and terrorize the bank patrons. They get bank manager Claire Keesey to open the vault, but Claire trips a silent alarm. Doug's second in command, "Jem" Coughlin, believing the assistant manager set off the alarm, buttstrokes him with his assault rifle. We see then that Jem is a dangerous psycho.

Hey, folks! In the '80s I watched He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, but Skeletor was my hero!

Despite being a gang leader of machine gun-toting villains, Doug is portrayed as having a noble side. He later meets up with Claire and they begin a relationship. He becomes protective, beating up some toughs who harassed her. Jem goes along with him and reinforces our view of him as psychotic.

Jeremy Renner plays Jem, the adrenaline-fueled sociopathic buddy. He played an adrenaline-fueled sergeant in The Hurt Locker. He's good at that type of character. There's no noble side to Jem, not after nine years in prison.

Jeremy Renner as Jem: not good bad, just bad bad.

Rebecca Hall is Claire, and Jon Hamm is the FBI man who knows Doug is the leader of the robbers, but just can't pin it on him until he finally gets proof.

Jon Hamm's square jaw would have made J. Edgar Hoover proud. He'd have to shave first, though. Rebecca Hall is a fine actress, a vulnerable character in her part.

Another character in the movie is the town of Charlestown, Massachusetts, which is given a written apology at the end of the film by the filmmakers. Although it's well authenticated to be the home of such criminals, the movie ignores the good folks of the town. Well, apology accepted, I guess, unless you're the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce.

I like crime stories, but I try not to identify with the criminal; not always easy. I watch Investigation Discovery Channel, programs like "I (Almost) Got Away With It," and "Cuff Me If You Can," both of which show criminals getting away with their crimes for 60 minutes, and then getting caught just before the credits roll. We all have something of a Robin Hood view of crooks, especially in movies, where they can be shown as sympathetic. In real life the crooks profiled by the ID channel may be crafty and savvy at evading the law, but they are anti-social people who don't care the same about us as we may care about them. So in the end when they're caught that's good, even if during the program we were pulling for them to get away. They really deserve to be in prison, away from society in general.

So it is with Doug, who is shown at the end of the movie as being a free man, having evaded death and/or capture by the feds who are chasing him. In real life the FBI would be mounting a huge manhunt, Doug would be featured on America's Most Wanted, and he might get away for a time, even years, but eventually he'd be reeled in and sent to prison. And good riddance.

The Town makes reference to our fascination with forensic television programs. The criminals use various techniques to avoid leaving that sort of evidence behind. In the bank they "bleach it," pouring bleach all over the bank to eliminate any stray DNA evidence they may have left. I admit, I'd never thought of that before seeing The Town. Another lesson learned in how not to get caught. Doug admits to Claire he watches all the CSI shows: "Miami CSI and New York CSI [sic]," and like millions of other viewers of these programs, he is getting a lesson in how to avoid leaving evidence. While promoting forensic science to television viewers, they are also providing valuable training films for criminals.

There's a small, juicy part for British character actor, Pete Postlethwaite, as the fence/money launderer. Postlethwaite's face is his fortune. It's homely in a really exquisite way.

The Town is a well made, action-packed film. It's star Ben Affleck's directorial debut, and I predict a career for him like Clint Eastwood's: directing movies, and starring in some of them. I'll be interested in whatever projects he picks. But besides the action and the love story, at the heart of The Town is yet another glorification of criminals, violence and criminal acts. In real life there are real victims of dangerous morons who come into banks shooting and terrorizing the innocent. I'm sure I'd lose all sympathy for Doug or his gang if I were on the floor of the bank being threatened with death from machine gun bullets.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I liked The Town too, great acting and an interesting story. It's Ben Affleck's second film as director. In 2007 he did Gone Baby Gone which I highly recommend