By JP Chapman | September 17, 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
Set in Charlestown, Boston, The Town opens by explaining that Charlestown is and always has been a training ground of sorts for bank robbers. Within its mean streets, thievery is passed down as a family trade (just as cobbling has been for generations in the Campbell household), as young blue collar Bostonians fight to make something of themselves in their violent world. Immediately after this explanation, we jump to the back of a van as four friends prepare to ambush armored car guards about to make a daily pick-up at a bank. Donning Halloween masks, they quickly, and with ease disable the guards, lock the doors to the bank, and approach the frightened manager to open the large vault. The manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), is nearly paralyzed with fear, but manages to not only open the vault, but also discreetly trip a silent alarm. Claire’s actions come too late though, as the team declares the job complete. Realizing the police are on the way, one of the four thieves decides they must also take Claire with them as insurance in case they are caught in their getaway. Easily eluding the police, they drop a terrified Claire by the waterfront, blindfolded and handcuffed. As she is picked up by the FBI to discuss her ordeal, the boys take their haul to the friendly neighborhood florist/money launderer and begin planning the next job.
The common thugs turned expert bank robbers are led by Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), an ex-almost-pro hockey player blessed with good looks and a phenomenal mind for planning elaborate heists. His friend Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is the loose cannon that abducted Claire and seems destined for additional moments of “questionable” judgment. Finally, Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Owen Burke) make up the remaining members of the team responsible for driving and electronics on the jobs. Doug seems ready to take a breather as he feels law enforcement will be watching even more closely than normal, but Jem is determined to continue with additional robberies. In the meantime, he’s kept Claire’s ID from the last job and wants to “take care of her” as she’s the only person that could potentially tie them to the job. Hoping to prevent his friend from taking drastic measures, Doug volunteers to check her out and see what she knows. Throughout this process, Doug discovers that not only does Claire have information about the friends, but that she’s also extremely fearful to speak to the FBI further. Rather than walking away satisfied with the knowledge that they’ll be safe, Doug begins to continue seeing Claire, gradually falling in love with her.
Meanwhile, the FBI is closing in on the friends. Led by agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), they are gathering mounting evidence potentially tying the team to multiple jobs. In their research, they discover that Doug’s father is serving time for a robbery gone wrong in which someone was murdered. Additionally, it is also revealed that Jem is even more of a loose cannon than previously thought, having served 9 years in prison himself on a manslaughter charge. Frawley is a determined man though, and looks for weaknesses amongst the friends’ families and social spheres-sure he’ll be able to find the one person weak enough to sell them out as they make the mistake he’s waiting for. In the midst of this scrutiny, Jem’s brashness is drawing the eye of the law as he pushes Doug to riskier and riskier jobs. Doug struggles as his love for Claire has left him wanting out, while he simultaneously fights with how to handle the fact that the robbery he is responsible for is the main point of fear and frustration in her life.
I’ll be honest—I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan. In my opinion, he’s made more missteps than not over the course of his career. His reconnection with the city and people of Boston in recent years is starting to change my mind though. Gone Baby Gone was a huge step in restoring Affleck’s credibility over the long Bennifer years, and now The Town serves to further remind us that this guy is a talented storyteller. With what I felt was great direction and a fun screenplay, The Town offers a refreshingly different take on the standard heist movie and further asserts that Affleck deserves to be in the director’s chair more. I’m growing increasingly curious to see where the artistic path leads him. While the story and direction are great, the true power of The Town lies in its casting. Virtually every single actor involved delivers an impressively solid performance, with several even catching the viewer off guard with their skill (I’m looking at you drug-addled Blake Lilvely! Who knew she’d be as good as she is!?). Jon Hamm is awesome as always in the role of Adam Frawley (although I’ll always love him first and foremost as Don Draper), and Jeremy Renner continues his impressive roll that The Hurt Locker started him in on. My primary complaint with regards to the The Town is via the character of Doug MacRay. I had a hard time buying the character of a “handsome boy genius bank robber with a heart of gold” as realistic. Other than that, the only remaining problem I had was with the occasional leanings on other Bostonian crime dramas such as The Departed (not a bad film to emulate though).
Overall, The Town was a well put together, fun movie that is definitely worth checking out. Ben Affleck is re-establishing himself as a worthwhile filmmaker, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.