Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Town [2010]

Ratings - MPAA (R), USCCB (O), Roger Ebert (3 stars), Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Roger Ebert's review

Set in the working class neighborhood of Charlestown in Boston, I knew that The Town was going to be popular among the Anglo parishioners in my parish. Having now seen the movie, I do think that its universal themes dealing with loyalty, friendship, community and parting of ways would probably strike chords among older and working-class audiences across the globe.

The Town is a “genre movie,” hence the story is presented in a form with discernable “conventions” (rules) and the story is presented in an exaggerated manner for effect. I say this because on the surface this movie is about a crew of bank robbers who work for a local mafia which controls the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston.

Now why would one have sympathy for any of these people? This is especially since during the course of the movie, the members of this crew of bank robbers wound an awful lot of people, smash an awful lot of cars and other property, and seem to be enjoying an enormous streak of luck in getting away with it all. So what’s going on? Why do we sympathize with the apparent thug-protagonists in the story? And most importantly why, despite the violence and mayhem, we can more or less be certain that the vast majority of the smiling, popcorn eating parishioners from my parish (often sweet rosary praying grandmothers, though with their own stories) watching this movie will not turn to a life of violent crime as a result of watching a movie like this?

It’s because the story speaks to us on a level below the superficial and why I believe that this movie would be understandable to working class and generally older audiences across the globe: The protagonists in this movie feel trapped. They are making a living in a manner which is obviously dangerous and illegal, but most of them don't see a way out. The frustration of the people in the story is most clearly expressed by Krista the former girlfriend of the MacRay (the movie’s main protagonist). At one point in the movie, she sobbingly asks: “Why is it me who always gets used?”

MacRay, who is the leader of the bank robbing crew and is played by Ben Affleck (Affleck also wrote and directed the movie) comes to see a way out of his dead-end and rapidly closing situation. But he has to deal with and navigate through feelings of loyalty to his neighborhood and crew. Anyone who has ever loved his friends and his community even though everything was “not right” would understand.

American cinema has a long “noir” tradition of “hard boiled” movies about the fallen city and getting by (and finding a way out) through street smarts. In recent years a numbrer of movies of this style have been set in Boston (Mystic River, The Departed and now The Town). Clint Eastwood, who directed Mystic River, adds others including The Grand Torino and even The Changeling. If you liked any of these movies, you will probably like The Town. And given the arc of the story, if you liked the movie Shawshank Redemption, you’ll find many similarities.

Yes, this is a very violent movie. There is some sex. However, it is a movie that also tells a story, one that a lot of people, who will never become criminals, will relate to.

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