By Don Simpson | September 16, 2010
Director: Ben Affleck
Writers: Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard (screenplay), Chuck Hogan (novel: Prince of Thieves)
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
Claire (Rebecca Hall) is abducted by four rubbery skull-faced thieves during a robbery of a bank at which she’s an assistant manager. Once the thieves succeed in their getaway, they let Claire go. They keep her driver’s license and Jem (Jeremy Renner) — the smoldering loose-canon of the wild bunch — realizes that Claire lives in their ‘hood (Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood). In other words, she might recognize them…
Speaking of Charlestown, it is important to note that with its mix of upper-middle and middle-class residences, housing projects, and significant working class Irish-American population, Charlestown has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other single square mile in the U.S.
Doug (Ben Affleck), the de facto leader of the gang (because he is the smartest), quickly pounces on the opportunity to spy on Claire in order to ensure that she does not sing too loudly to the police. In one of the most formulaic scenes in a very formulaic film, Doug and Claire meet in a Laundromat. Claire is crying. She briefly tells Doug about her traumatic encounter at her bank. Doug says, “I’m sorry.” Claire says, “It’s not your fault.” Oh, if only she knew the truth about Doug…
Soon Doug is bedding Claire — she is much classier, more specifically middle-class, than the other Charlestown girls — and they fall deeply in love. In fact, his love for Claire is so unbelievably strong that Doug decides he is going to change his life. The question is will they not only survive but transcend the standard destiny of star-crossed lovers in popular fiction? (Have I mentioned that The Town is very formulaic?)
Doug has a lot of people rooting against him. First and foremost there is Jem, who is able to manipulate Doug (like any good Catholic) by way of a multitude of guilt trips. Jem’s family raised Doug after his mother “abandoned” him and his father (Chris Cooper) was sent to the big house for robbery. Doug also had a romantic past with Jem’s sleazy sister, Krista (Blake Lively). Most importantly, Jem spent 9 years in the slammer for protecting Doug. Next there is Fergie (Pete Postlewaite), the leader of their micro Irish Mafia, who is certainly not going to let Doug walk away from him. Lastly, FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) wants nothing more than to sentence Doug to being lifetime cellmates with his father, and Frawley is hot on Doug’s’ trail.
The Town’s action sequences are sharply orchestrated and nicely paced. The plot features three very neatly spaced heists: at the beginning, middle and end of the film. Unfortunately, the first two heists are the only redeemable parts of the entire film. (The second robbery features an impressively orchestrated car chase through some very narrow streets.)
My problems with The Town are two-fold: Ben Affleck, the actor; and Ben Affleck, the director. As Doug, Affleck speaks in a thick yet flimsy Boston accent (his manner of speaking is eerily reminiscent of an Adam Sandler persona) and he is much too clean cut and pretty to be believable as a working-class Charlestown hoodlum. (There is a vanity-soaked scene in which Affleck flexes his muscles that is cringe-worthy at best.) As the director, Affleck purports to be revealing the truth about the rough and tumble working-class world of Charlestown which lives by its “pitiable, misguided Irish omerta”; instead The Town is an overtly contrived and formulaic glorification of violence and thievery. Affleck gives Doug three excuses for his life of crime: his motherless childhood, his criminal father and his failed hockey career. There is no mention of the role poverty (or even gentrification) has played in any of this. Basically, The Town is right at home with the other somewhat recent films about crime in Boston: Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and Affleck’s directorial debut Gone Baby Gone.
The Town was adapted from the Chuck Hogan (co-author with Guillermo del Toro on the The Strain Trilogy) novel Prince of Thieves.