Five Things About The Town

You only need to care about one of these characters

I watched The Town last night. It was the first time I watched this Ben Affleck-directed crime film since I saw it in theaters last October and my thoughts are essentially the same. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote at the time:

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.

I don’t know or how but I also apparently enjoyed Blake Lively’s performance back then. Go figure. (To be fair, my hatred against Lively has only grown in the last year.)

So I was less enthralled by The Town this time around. Here are five things I realized about The Town thanks to a second viewing.

1. It’s all about the action scenes

The three action sequences define The Town and they are the absolute best aspect of this movie. Each one is engaging, suspenseful, and perfectly edited. More time was clearly spent making these scenes great than on anything else in the movie. To execute the bank heist in the North End, takes some serious skill and it shows. As my sister rightly pointed out, “They probably just made this movie so they could have a shootout at Fenway.”

2. This is Jeremy Renner’s movie

Most of the characters (Jon Hamm’s FBI agent; Blake Lively’s drug addict single mother) are one-note and the performances are laughable. But not Renner’s. Jem  Coughlin is the only character with any sort of substance. He’s dangerous, a loose cannon and a perfect anti-hero to Ben Affleck’s whiney protagonist. Renner captures Jem’s complicated nature perfectly.

3. Pete Postlethwaite’s final great role

The Town features Pete Postlethwaite’s second-to-last performance. He died in January, three months after the film’s release and now his character, mob boss and florist Fergie, has a different impact. You’re watching a great actor get into a character who is so wonderfully corrupt, you wish there was a prequel just about him.

4. Ben Affleck thought he was starring in a Sirk movie. 

The Town really tries to emphasize central character Doug MacRay’s internal struggle. He is struck between his upbringing, his street life, and his dreams to leave Charlestown. He had a chance to get out as a teenager but just followed in his father’s footsteps. (You were great in that one scene Chris Cooper!) While MacRay’s desire to leave his life of crime behind is admirable, he never shuts up about it.  I get it. Your dad’s in prison, Your mom’s a dead junkie. You are a failed hockey star. You constantly need to prove yourself in the most melodramatic ways possible. This character, like every character in The Town,  is an archetype for someone who can’t leave their baggage behind. The worst part is that Doug MacRay sees himself as a victim of his upbringing and not always an active participant in why he’s a career criminal.

5. The Town has a serious woman problem

There are three types of female characters in The Town: the dead junkie, the living junkie/single mother, and the yuppie career woman. These are glaringly awful characterizations that create less than sympathetic characters. These women exist in a world that is created and controlled by the actions of men. This is a world they can never escape. Krista Coughlin (Blake Lively) can only leave Charlestown if someone decent (probably a good-hearted gent) takes sympathy and helps her. Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) stays put and works towards making Doug’s dreams for Charlestown (a brand spanking new ice hockey rink for teenagers) come true. Basically, the portrayal of women in The Town is absolute crap. It’s a movie about the actions of men and women are just pawns to make the men live better lives.

What are your thoughts on The Town? Did you find it more problematic the second time around like I did? Or am I completely off track? Sound off below.

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6 thoughts on “Five Things About The Town

  1. I saw your Twitter post and almost responded, but a little more room here to express my thoughts.

    1. The Town is at it’s genre core, a heist movie. Doug’s issues of loyalty to his friends (the criminal’s code), frenetic action sequences and shadowy characters of both genders predominate the cast. I think it stays true to those conventions without falling into cliche or gratuitous violence.

    2. We all know Affleck is from Boston and in my opinion he establishes and adroitly utilizes Boston as not just a setting, but almost a character in the story. Having Fenway serve as the target for the climax of the film did not feel to me perfunctory or ‘let’s show an area landmark so everyone knows it’s Boston’.

    3. Jeremy Renner absolutely kills it and yes, he is much more than a supporting role or foil to Affleck. I thought he deserved at least an Academy Award nomination.

    4. Sure, most of the women are less than grounded, stable and morally upright. As mentioned, it’s a film set in the violent criminal world. The men from both sides of the law are no more reputable. I think Claire is something more than a yuppie cardboard cutout, despite the Prius and what not. Her behavior is neither pretentious nor entitled and I think the performance reflects that.

    5. Doug does not fully grasp his responsibility for his criminal leanings, but he has a legitimate desire to leave it and I think, make some sort of amends for his past transgressions. The ending does not absolve him, nor does it end happily ever after. It does punctuate with a sense of hope that he has left his criminal past and seeks atonement.

    I enjoyed The Town and after seeing it again, my opinion had not changed. In the litany of heist films, it may not crack the top 10, but I think it is a solid effort.

    I only recently discovered your blog (via Twitter) and enjoy your posts and even when I disagree with some of your opinions, I think your arguments are well formed and worth considering. I look forward to more.

    1. You’re right that The Town is a solid heist film without being too cliche. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it. I love how Boston is a character in the movie; when I saw the movie was I living a few blocks from where the North End scene was filmed. This time around I was interested in how The Town works beyond genre codes and what I noticed about the movie when I wasn’t focused just on genre. Thanks for reading!

      1. I agree that The Town’s stereotypical portrayal of women is sickeningly blatant…and beyond disgusting, to boot. All three of the women are completely under the control of the men in this film. Not only is that true of Jem Coughlin’s sister, Krista, the drugged-out single mother of Shyne, who is not only a drug mule for crime-boss/florist Fergie, but is totally exploited by the men she’s surrounded by, including Doug and Jem.

        Claire Keesey, a yuppie-bank manager, who moved into Charlestown from the suburbs, who’s a princess-like, pure of heart do-gooder who does volunteer work for the youngsters of Charlestown but renovates a seedy ice hockey rink in memory of Doug MacRay’s mom, is also exploited by Doug MacRay, who supposedly falls for her, but also sees her as someone who’s vulnerable due to being traumatized by Doug and his men having knocked over her bank at gunpoint and then abducting her. Claire Keesey was the victim of the Lima Syndrome (the inverse of the Stockholm Syndrome), where the captor falls in love with his victim, but you know what?

        A captive who falls victim to either the Stockholm Syndrome or its inverse, the Lima Syndrome, is constantly at her captor’s beck and call. It’s the captor who decides whether or not the captive will survive. The captive is actually brainwashed into believing that her captor cares for her, is kind to her, and will never, ever abuse, let alone kill her, but woe betide the captive if she shows any signs of resisting the captor, or refusing to comply with him in any way or form!

        A captive who falls victim to the Stockholm or Lima Syndrome is isolated from friends and loved ones, and begins blaming them, as well as law enforcement people and other figures of authority for trying to end that “wonderful” relationship, rather than blaming her captor who committed this criminal act against her in the first place. One does not have to be in any of the helping professions (i. e. psychiatrist, mental health counselor, social worker, etc.) to be aware of that.

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