A tribute to Blake Lively and Jeremy Renner in The Town
What does greatness look like? Well, it can appear in many forms, whether it's Michael Jordan in the fourth quarter or Dennis Rodman at the club after the same game. But, exactly 10 years ago, it came via two surprising vessels: Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively in The Town.
Before diving into their iconic performances as Charlestown's finest, let's look back on who these A-listers were to us going into Ben Affleck's heist thriller. After starring in The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants films, Lively became an "It girl" thanks to her star-making turn as socialite Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl, a role as far from Kris Coughlin as you can get. And Renner was about to have his own moment, with the next year bringing his debuts in the MCU and Mission: Impossible franchise. But, at this time, he was essentially a that guy, having been neither Jesse James or Robert Ford in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and No. 1 on the call sheet of pre-Fargo Noah Hawley's short-lived cop procedural The Unusuals. Yes, just months before The Town he was the lead of Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker, but director Kathryn Bigelow was the star and talking point there.
So, as The Town prepared to be released in 2010, any anticipation was rightfully directed at peak Mad Men Jon Hamm taking on his biggest film role to date and the growing possibility that an Affleck renaissance could be on the way. And while Hamm went HAM and Affleck's status as a legit auteur was cemented, 10 years later, Renner and Lively are who you still can't look away from.
Considering Renner nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination (it was very Boston year, with Christian Bale winning for The Fighter), we'll start with him. Not to make this about me, but, as a Massachusetts native, I can't even tell you how real the coke and X-Box-loving Jem Coughlin felt. Now, let's be clear that I wasn't ever hanging out in Charlestown and the locals definitely would have treated me like I was Rebecca Hall, but that doesn't mean I haven't met or seen a (hopefully) less violent version of Jem.
And who he is and what he's all about is clear from the minute he's first onscreen without a mask. Rocking his sweatsuits and me against the world attitude, Jem is like the pitbull you keep on a leash, just waiting to let him loose when you need to, as demonstrated in the most often-quoted and memorable moment of the film. Told by his new love interest Claire (Hall) that some guys have been harassing her, Doug, the leader of the "not f---ing around crew," goes to his best friend/muscle with a request. “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re going to hurt some people.” Jem, watching TV, slightly shifts his eyes, waits a brief moment and simply replies, “Whose car we gonna take?” If that wasn't badass enough, when they go to beat up one of these kids, Jem, like always, takes it a step too far, shooting him in the knee and cracking the random as hell one-liner, "There goes college soccer." It's so good and unexplainable that that Jem gem had to have been an improv by Renner.
And an entire thesis could be written about the little things that Renner does in The Town, whether it's the look of evil delight that he takes in catching Doug on a date with Claire, the way he yells "f--- you" to Hamm as he's cornered, the fact that he leans over to finish a soda that is laying on the ground before he goes out shooting, or his masked reaction when they come face-to-face with a cop on construction duty after thinking they had fully evaded the police.
For that scene, Affleck was initially worried about keeping the actors in their nun masks, only to realize the potential of the mystery. "Even [Jem] had his limits; the most sort of violent, explosive, hothead of the group could also reach a point where he felt exhausted by the whole thing," recently shared Affleck, happily noting that you can't even tell it's Renner who gives the memorable expression. "I remember talking to him about having a sense of 'Oh, you’ve got to be f---ing kidding me.' Like finishing a marathon and being told now you’ve got to go back and run it again. He was able to do that and communicate that even though he was totally shrouded in this costume and you could barely even see his eyes, but somehow with his body language you get that sense."
Yes, you get the sense that he's not f---ing around.
Okay, enough of the appetizer, it's time for the main course.
Do you ever love something so much and can't understand how not everyone else feels the same way? That is me with two things: Hitch and Blake Lively in The Town. Here's a headline of Philadelphia Magazine's review of Affleck's film: "Blake Lively Lets Down The Town; Rest of Cast Shines." Others didn't put it as bluntly, but reviews of the film at the time were mostly lukewarm on Lively's performance. In his 2016 story "How I Learned to Tolerate Blake Lively," Wesley Morris wrote, "Her performance as a junkie in The Town features the Bride Wars of Boston accents." For those of you unfamiliar with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway's rom-com, that is not a compliment.
But, if Renner owns this movie, then Lively is the true thief because she not-so-secretly steals it from right out under him. Like Jem, we know everything we need to know about his party girl sister Kris within an instant of meeting her — and it's all glorious. At the local bar, she's drinking a beer, giving sex eyes to Doug from across the room, flashing an incredible smile, and being offended when Doug mentions that he heard she got in a fight. "Do I look like I got in a fight?" she says with a winning swagger. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'd be ready to throw away my life for Kris.
“The whole movie kind of hinges in a lot of ways on her performance, and I knew it was going to be the hardest part to cast,” Affleck previously explained about casting the Gossip Girl star. “This girl came in, and no one had said to me beforehand, ‘Hey, look for this person.’ And obviously she was really attractive, and so I thought, Oh, here comes some blond girl. She came in, did one reading, and just crushed it. Like, Boston accent — really good. I was sort of stunned. I said, ‘Jeez, you know, that was really f---ing good. Who are you?’ She didn’t mention that she was on a television show.”
Thank you Ben for mentioning the accent, of which Lively went all-in on. Honestly, I'm not sure if anyone else has ever been more all in on something in the history of mankind.
But, disappointingly, the movie doesn't go all-in on Kris, as she disappears for almost an hour, only to come roaring back with a vengeance. While Lively plays the ex of Doug (or Dougie, as she always says in a perfect way) and sister of Jem, it's Hamm with whom she displays sizzling chemistry. Before Hamm's FBI agent turns the tables on Kris with his speech about the weight of money, Lively is, once again, redefining "going for it." As they flirt at the local bar, she throws back a Bud Light and throws around those eyes and smile again, saying with pure delight, "You're alright. Doesn't mean you're getting f---ed, though. You got to chase the rabbit if you want the tail."
By the end of the scene, he has her scared, completely flipping how Lively has to play Kris for the climax of the film. The character becomes a very different kind of hurricane from then on, building to what might still be the best dramatic work of Lively's career (obviously we all stan A Simple Favor). Following a drug-fueled crash, Kris, still high, sits in a hospital bed, facing the decision of losing her daughter Shyne (it's literally not possible to have come up with a better name) or her brother and ex. It's hard to decide what is my favorite line delivery of hers here: "There he is, Mr. Six Inches," "You're a crime-stopper, figure it the f--- out," or "I'm a person, ya know?" Chills.
Now, with these legendary performances properly recognized and available to rewatch on Netflix, there's only one thing left to discuss: Whose login we gonna take?