Chuck Hogan is unofficially part of the two-fisted Boston writing tag-team with Dennis Lehane. And with The Town receiving celluloid treatment, courtesy of Cambridge’s own Ben Affleck, we decided the book and movie were naturals for our newest feature Books to Box Office.
The Book: Hogan is at his peak in The Town. The book revolves around a band of life long, tough guy Charlestown residents (home to the Battle of Bunker Hill and its commemorative monument,) who live in the sun as Townies, but work in the shadows as methodical and brutal thieves and bank robbers.
Hogan’s strength lay in the time spent inhabiting his characters skin. You are up close in personal with men and women, you can see their stubble, scars and badly dyed roots. His dialogue has a thug-chic rhythm, and to this working class Boston bred reader, rings entirely true. Hogan adeptly captures testosterone bloated, sometimes insecure, male bravado perfectly. And when Hogan’s harpies shriek, they sing true to the ear of a cop responding to a “frequent flyer” domestic A&B call.
Hogan has his short comings but they are quickly plowed asunder with genuine dialogue and a great pace setting.
Hogan shows what he could really do by utilizing the Bunker Hill monument as a sun dial, and ticking off times as locations of the main character’s Charlestown life. His penchant for average minutia is washed away by a single, smart line.
The Town is also a crime procedural, with nomenclature, cops-n-robbers slang and other details that lend respectability and credibility to the thieves and their pursuers.
The Town is a far superior book than Devil’s in Exile and seems to be perfectly suited to film treatment.
The Film: To call The Town a visual love letter to Boston is an understatement. Actor/director Affleck creates a well worn, familiar Boston, Charlestown and Cambridge. From shots inside the O’Neill ice rink, to a Dunkin Donuts and the Phipps Street Cemetery, Affleck portrays Boston like someone who’s lived here. No weird jumble of streets to create a chase, his North End does connect quickly to Charlestown Bridge via Commercial Ave, not to some strange opposite side of the city loop.
Affleck’s film topography of Boston is true and immediately comforts we life-long Bostonians. However, like the book, The Town is not about a city, but the thieves and thugs that inhabit its corners.
His interpretation of Hogan’s source material is more a fine tuning rather than a wholesale rewrite. Some of the dialogue effectively used Hogan’s own words, but snipped to create more potent interchanges. Affleck wears the track jacket of Townie Doug MacRay with rough intensity. He’s man of few words, but always thinking and while physically imposing, more gentle than his fellow crime cohort, Jem, played by Jeremy Renner.
Renner’s Jem has a lived in tough guy feel to his performance. A little Cagney and a whole lot of trouble. Jem’s snap shot violence is disturbing, but it comes with a devil’s grin and ability to disarm with common man charm.
Each supporting character, from John Hamm to Blake Lively and Rebecca Hall, allow Affleck and Renner to bounce about Charlestown and Cambridge, like pinballs, all leading to a battering climax.
The action pieces in Affleck’s The Town, like Hogan’s book, felt like channeling of director Michael Mann’s crime epics like Heat and Thief. To see Fenway, the inside, the bowels, used for a full volume shoot-out was something this native Bostonian never expected to see.
Like Hogan’s book, Affleck’s The Town is a story of people that working class Bostonians know. They may not run in the same circles, may not know tough guys or ex-cons, but the men and women in the movie and book are true, they are Boston’s fractured mirror image.
The Town book and movie were paid for by Boston Book Bums for review.