The Town is built upon a cinematic cliché, the repentant criminal who finds it almost impossible to escape his surroundings, environment and peers. Fortunately, director Ben Affleck does a terrific job with the source material and has produced a gritty, exciting and satisfying crime film that ranks with the best of its genre.
The film opens up with a bank robbery, and it’s clear immediately that this isn’t a suave, sophisticated gang of thieves who are going to charm their victims, but a tough band of thugs who use physical force and intimidation to frighten them. Affleck plays disaffected criminal Doug MacRay, a lifelong Charlestown (Boston) resident who commits heists with his dangerously violent brother James (Jeremy Renner).
The bank robbery doesn’t transpire as planned and they grab bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and use her as a hostage to guarantee a smooth getaway. On Doug’s urging, they release her unharmed and when FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) later interviews her, he’s suspicious. But can Claire identify the robbers? That’s the central question in the film, and Doug begins stalking her — and then dating her — to ensure she doesn’t rat them out. Add in the “one more job” trope and you’ve got The Town.
Even with the occasionally ragged storyline, the action was exciting, the dialog gritty, vulgar and believable, the film reeked of verisimilitude, the performances were all spot-on, and the exterior shots of Boston were terrific. I really enjoyed The Town and anticipate Affleck becoming a reliable director of great films, much as Clint Eastwood has transformed his career and become one of the top directors in Hollywood. In a nutshell: go see The Town. You won’t regret it.
As with many films, the bank robbery demonstrates a level of criminal sophistication that surprised me, both within the cinematic framework of the movie and just in terms of crime scene savvy. At one point, James finds the security monitoring room at the bank, pulls out all the hard drives from the closed-circuit monitoring devices, then goes into the break room and puts them all in the microwave, quickly destroying them. They then splash bleach all over the counters and doors, in the getaway van, etc because “bleach destroys DNA”. This isn’t the first film that seems to serve as a primer for wanna-be criminals: is this really a good idea?
I really enjoyed the cinematography in The Town too. Most directors have limited imagination when it comes to camera work, the point of view always suggesting the camera is an additional character in the scene. In the modern world, however, we’re constantly on film, and more than once The Town switches to silent closed-circuit footage, or, at one point, closed-circuit video with a high, whining buzz. Reminiscent of the Mexican indie Caja Negra (see my review of Caja Negra), it’s a terrific cinematographic touch in a well-filmed movie.
Doug (Ben Affleck) and James (Jeremy Renner) disguise themselves as Boston PD in “The Town”
A triangle between two men and a woman is a common plot framework, but here we’re treated to a more complicated setup, where Doug and James are essentially brothers: Doug’s mother left when he was very young and when his father Stephen (Chris Cooper) was sent to jail, it’s James’ family that took Doug in and raised him like their own son. James has a sister Krista (Blake Lively) who has an intimate relationship with Doug, except Doug has fallen in love with Claire. Following this?
There’s considerably more to the story, including Doug’s relationship with local gang boss Gloansy (Slaine) and his second-in-command Dino (Titus Welliver), both of whom factor strongly into the reveal as the film proceeds, but they’re predictably cruel and unforgiving, and their comeuppance is satisfying but expected. I still appreciated how elements of the backstory came slowly into focus as the film proceeded, more than once making Doug — and the viewer — reevaluate the nature of relationships between characters.
The Town is a complex, interesting and tough crime film with a superb balance of action and story development. Affleck, who also co-wrote and directed the film, is terrific as the troubled hoodlum who has a change of heart and repents of his life of crime, and Renner puts in another solid performance as a slightly unhinged bad guy. There are some hiccups in the film, a few cliché scenes and at least one questionable plot device, but they’re all forgiven in this exciting film that I strongly recommend.