Ben Affleck’s second directorial effort, The Town, is a part of an emerging subgenre of Boston-set crime films that include Mystic River (2003), The Departed (2006), and Affleck’s debut feature, Gone Baby Gone (2007). In The Town, Affleck expands the scope of his lens with this film about Charlestown bank robbers.
The film opens with the statement that the 1-square-mile neighborhood of Charlestown has more bank robberies than any other Boston neighborhood. This fact (albeit completely false and misleading) sets up the opening bank robbery sequence that introduces us to The Town’s gang of merry criminals: the leader Doug MacCray (Affleck), the loose cannon Jem Couglin (Jeremy Renner), the IT guy Gloansy (Slaine) and the get-away driver Dez (Owen Burke). During this near-perfectly executed bank robbery, the group takes bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage. Following the robbery, Doug begins to follow Claire and they begin a relationship, setting up a clichéd conflict of right versus wrong.
His relationship with Claire causes Doug to realize what he has always known: his criminal lifestyle is beneath him. Doug, as we are told, could have been a professional ice hockey player but the ways of Charlestown and following in his convicted father’s footsteps sucked him into a life a crime. This realization puts Doug in a constant struggle with Jem and his boss Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite). It seems that no matter what Doug does, he will always been a “Townie” from Charlestown.
If it weren’t for Renner’s downright frightening performance as an immoral criminal and Blake Lively’s shocking and gritty portrayal of a junkie single mom, the characters in The Town would too one-note. That is exactly what happens to Jon Hamm, as the FBI agent who relentlessly tracks the gang. These completely clichéd aspects of The Town’s plot and character development are unfortunate.
What The Town demonstrates is Affleck’s exceptional ability as a director to tackle large-scale productions such as this. Affleck could not have executed the brilliantly crafted chase sequence set in Boston’s congested North End more perfectly. But one good chase sequence that has you jumping in your seat explosion after explosion cannot and does make a movie.
The Town is decent crime movie with more positives than negatives. For his part, Ben Affleck is an emerging director in Hollywood, although he is certainly no where near auteur status yet. But if The Town is the kind of crime thriller being pushed out today, than that is a welcomed (relatively) clichéd-ridden film.