Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Town / Chuck Hogan

When it comes to movies based on books, I usually try to read the book beforehand. During that interim period between reading it and watching the movie, it's a nice feeling to have in my head the purest form of the story, just the words and my imagination. I have all the details straight from the mouth of the author. Movies are a different format altogether, I understand that, but in translating a book to the big screen, most of those details are left out. So I try to get them in before the movie version invades my impression of the story.

In the case of the 2010 film The Town, however, I ended up seeing the movie first. While this isn't a review of the film, which Ben Affleck directed and starred in, I do have to say that it was excellent. You expect it'll be just a standard action flick about a bunch of bank robbers but it turns out to be much more engaging and interesting than that. I liked it so much that when I saw in the credits that it was based on the 2004 book Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, my interest was piqued. I don't read a lot of crime fiction, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm glad I did. While the movie is overall quite faithful to the book (except at least one major divergence), it lets you get inside the heads to a much greater degree of Doug MacRay, the head of the bank-robbing crew, and Adam Frawley, the FBI agent determined to bring him down. (For a commentary on the movie's adaption of the book, visit "Adapt This: Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’ vs. Chuck Hogan’s ‘Prince of Thieves'".)

By the way, the library has both the book (FIC HOGAN) and the movie (DVD T). Both are called The Town — don't look for the book under the title Prince of Thieves like I did!

Doug MacRay is a career criminal in his 30s who's finally reached the end of his heisting tether. He's tired of the life and tired of The Town — Charlestown, the roughshod neighborhood and culture that spawned him and his buddies. In the book, it's claimed that Charlestown has a reputation for being a "breeding ground for bank and armored car robbers" although this may likely be apocryphal.

The book opens with MacRay contemplating his life just before he and his crew pull off a morning bank job:
He wasn't there for thrills. He wasn't even there for money, though he wouldn't leave without it. He was there for the job. The job of the job, like the thing of the thing. Him and Jem and Dez and Gloansy pulling pranks together, same as when they were kids — only now it was their livelihood. Heisting was what they did and who they were.
The ever-erratic Jem insists they take the manager, Claire Keesey, hostage as a contingency plan. The mask-wearing crew releases her when they're a safe distance away, leaving Claire badly shaken by the entire incident. And MacRay finds he can't get her out of his head either. In trying to do some follow-up work to discern what she's told the FBI, he soon finds himself engineering a meet-cute and then courting her in a desperate attempt to escape his world.

Complicating matters further is Frawley, who finds himself drawn to Keesey as well even while he's investigating her.

The tension builds as both Frawley and MacRay play this cat-and-mouse game of outwitting each other, with the unwitting Claire (who's much more likable in the movie than in the book) at the center of it all. I found myself rooting for the increasingly conflicted MacRay, wanting him to succeed in pulling off his greatest score yet — breaking free of the life and the law.

Hogan, who lives outside Boston, brings a great deal of detail to his descriptions of The Town, making the place much more concrete for those of us who've never been to the City on the Hill. But what makes the book really crackle was the dialogue. It's like the characters chew up and spit out asphalt when they speak, their words sharp, grating and profane. (I'd give you an example, but it's a rare sentence that goes by without an f-bomb.) Who talks like that? I have no idea, but I think they really bring the characters and their environs to life. Hogan makes you believe it.

Part of what makes the The Town such a fun read is that it's hard to categorize it into any one genre. Here's a man, a bad guy on many counts, who is trying to salvage the good that remains in him. And he's trying to do it with one of his robbery victims. It sounds crazy, but once you're in MacRay's head, you not only understand, you support it. There's the budding romance between MacRay and Claire, the fraying bromance between MacRay and Jem and the hero-villain dynamic MacRay and Frawley.

1 comment:

txcityreflib said...

Great Review. The Town (both book and movie) are eerily similar to The Friends of Eddie Coyle (both book and movie). Both are good though.