One Bostonian View of THE TOWN

By at September 28, 2010 | 12:20 am | Print

UPDATE (09.29.10) We’ve received some great feedback about our look at The Town (thanks everybody), the most valuable from our friend and colleague Adam R., a guy who worked on the film every day of its production. Adam connected with us to confirm and clarify some of our thinking. You can find a pair of real-deal updates below. Enjoy.

For a Boston-based movie reviewer, examining a film like The Town is not just an interest, it’s practically an obligation. And a welcome one at that. (A critic should actually see everything possible, but that’s a chat for another day.) Part of that obligation is seeing the film with other Bostonians, to take it all in with real-time local reaction to a movie in which the city plays such an integral part. That’s what we did, and I’m here to report one viewpoint from one local.

Ben Affleck, Slaine, Jeremy Renner and Owen Burke in The Town

Okay, a caveat: I’ve been in Boston since 1986. Sounds like a while, but if you know anything about fiercely historic cities, it’s meaningless to those born and bred here. To many, I’m still a newcomer after 25 years. And although I’ve lived and worked in plenty of neighborhoods around Eastern Massachusetts, I’ve never lived or hung out much in Charlestown, where The Town takes place. That’s my general disclaimer, thanks.

:: The locations
Ben Affleck and The Town filmmakers don’t fudge too much with the physical reality, or turn a locale into something it’s not in real life. Obviously, this helps to keep an authentic local flavor, and one could imagine that was important to Affleck, a Cambridge, MA native.

The excellent use of the bridge into Charlestown, the Harvard Square location, the Fenway Park area (see below), all have been affected very little by Hollywood tomfoolery. In fact, Yawkey Way in the Fens can be pretty empty on a weekday when there’s no Red Sox game (let’s assume that), so that onscreen mayhem could theoretically happen there. And the subsequent moves on the streets away from Fenway Park were on the money. I’m sure there was a bit of cheating here and there, but they had me believing it.

Ben Affleck Directing Jon Hamm in The Town

I was taken out of the experience a bit during Doug and Claire’s outdoor lunch — I couldn’t picture dining tables in that small familiar area in Harvard Square — but Jeremy Renner’s high-intensity performance hooked me right back in. The guy pushed hard and made Affleck that much better an actor in the process. Hey, that Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker was no BS. 

UPDATE: I was wrong here. No, not about Renner’s acting acuity, about the shooting location. The dining tables are there on practically any nice day, as part of the outdoor seating for a Harvard bar called Grendel’s. (The MITL braintrust met there for the first time, you’d think I could’ve figured it out. Oh well, we met in December… ) Adam says “The tables are already there and we just showed up and shot it in the real location with Grendel’s stuff. Didn’t even move their table an inch.

:: The names and places
Obviously, names always need to change for legal reasons, but there is plenty of authentic context in The Town. During the FBI briefing, there’s even a mention of BayBank, a great touch since it was once a popular bank until it was absorbed by another bank in 1995.

There’s even a real bank in close proximity to the Harvard Square location of the film’s opening bank heist sequence (a friend used to work there). Kudos to the team for getting that close to the real world, a big plus for Bostonians watching the film.

UPDATE: This one is even more authentic than I thought. The bank heist exterior wasn’t just close to an actual bank; it was right in front of it. And in case you’re wondering about the interior, it wasn’t some soundstage. The pivotal opening act heist was shot in a bank, just not in the Harvard Square bank where the exteriors were shot.

:: The accents
Ah, the biggest problem for many Boston-based movies. It’s a tough accent to get right — too many actors cluelessly combine a neighborhood dialect and the Brahmin affect, making a big mess. Affleck has all the right tweaks and twitches in his vocal delivery, but he may be away from the Olde Towne a little too long to still nail it. Jeremy Renner does an exceptional job making the accent feel real without overdoing it, a tough task.

Jon Hamm and Ben Affleck in The TownThe smartest move in this category, and one that locals appreciate: Letting Jon Hamm concentrate on his role and not his accent. Obviously, an FBI guy could come from just about anywhere in the US, so it makes sense for him to be accent-free. When he mocks the local tongue while interrogating Affleck’s Doug McRae (trying to say “Stah Mahkit,” “quarters” and Malden” like a real townie), the audience let out a solid laugh. Great idea, Mr. Affleck.

:: The Sox
When Pete Postlethwaite’s Fergie calls Fenway Park the greatest cathedral in Boston, that’s no exaggeration. The ballpark — and the Sox — have been woven into the fabric of the city like church and pub, in a way that very few cities can understand. The closest parallel is in Chicago, where the legend of the Cubs and the glory and location of Wrigley Field can barely be matched.

The fact that Fergie’s crew would cause harm to the “lyric little bandbox” adds complexity to the boys’ code of loyalty, as well as making a tongue-in-cheek comment about the love-hate relationship Bostonians have with the beloved Fenway Nine.

:: Final shot
Whether you choose to pay mind to the above commentary, The Town is an excellent film, a classic cops-and-robbers story that’s well-told, well-timed and fiercely directed. It often pays homage to Michael Mann’s Heat, and is a worthy — but not quite equal — member of that film’s modern crime genre. Go see it.

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