Warner Bros. // 2010 // 153 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // December 22nd, 2010
One blue-collar Boston neighborhood has produced more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere in the world.
"Gonna shoot me? Go ahead. But you're gonna have to shoot me in the back."
Professional bank robber Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck, Paycheck) and his crew pull a heist in their usual way -- well-planned, methodical, quick, violent, all bases covered. But this time, someone trips a silent alarm, so the boys take a hostage, young assistant manager Claire (Rebecca Hall, Please Give). The guys aren't killers unless they have to be, and they release her soon enough; since they were disguised, and she was blindfolded during the abduction, they know she can't identify them.
To their horror, they discover that Claire lives in their neighborhood, part of the influx of "yuppies" into close-knit Charlestown, a hardscrabble place known for turning out more than its share of thieves and now undergoing a decidedly unwelcome period of gentrification.
Deciding to keep tabs on Claire, Doug starts following her, and without realizing who he really is, she begins a relationship with him. Although this started out as purely business, Doug finds himself falling for the pretty banker.
But Doug's a product of his environment, and the life he's made in Charlestown isn't one he can just walk away from. His crew -- particularly lifelong friend Jem (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker) -- is itching to continue hitting banks and armored cars. Can Doug turn his back on this life and become the man he's telling Claire he is, or will they both end up casualties of The Town?
The Town is Ben Affleck's second feature as a director, a logical follow-up to the critically acclaimed Gone Baby Gone. Like that film, The Town takes place in a rough Boston burgh, and Affleck's affinity for this place gives the film a solid, authentic, and familiar feel.
Unfortunately, much about The Town feels a little too familiar. This is a very well-made film with some exceptional performances, but the script just doesn't live-up to the promise of the filmmaking.
At its core, The Town is the story of a bad guy trying to go straight who keeps getting pulled back into "the life." While it's possible to take an oft-told tale and make it fresh, Affleck gussies it up with action set pieces that are intense, thrilling -- and just a bit too elaborate to really feel they belong here.
Rather than the old "one last job," Affleck -- who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan -- gives us two "last jobs," plus the opening heist. These are excellent, adrenaline-rush pieces, complex, beautifully edited, and worthy of standing next to the great action/crime scenes of all time. The script tells us just enough about the plans so we can follow them, but not so much as to lose the thrills.
But these powerhouse scenes tend to way overshadow the smaller story of Doug's personal struggle. Of course, that's how it is in action films -- which is why when someone mentions Bullitt, you think "car chase!" before you think "Jacqueline Bissett." But while Bullitt had cool Steve McQueen (plus the ultra-sexy Bissett), The Town gives us the decidedly low-key pairing of Affleck and Hall, two attractive, serious actors doing serious-actor stuff like talking about feelings and dredging up past demons. Like most movies, they fall for each other hard and fast -- but it's a little too hard and a little too fast. For all the time the film spends on them, and considering how central this relationship is to the story, it's just never compelling enough to ground the story as it should. The actors have a respectful chemistry, but no passion; there's nothing that jumps out or suggests that they are a perfect pair whose lives will have more meaning if they're together.
Plus, the action scenes are so jarring and visceral next to the deliberately paced, intentionally non-fireworky romantic pairing that part of you wants to see Doug dump the good girl and continue his life of crime.
And here we get another little problem, tone-wise. The crimes these guys commit are huge -- they're movie crimes, where the guys wear disguises, use assault weapons, mow down armies of cops, and so on. Any one of these would be legend in a city large or small, talked and written about for years; in The Town, we get three humungous heists in something like a six-week period.
If Affleck had made a straight-on, no-apologies action film, it would be great, but there's a sense that he was going for something more, something deeper, something about loyalties, and connections, and being true to yourself, and finding yourself, and honoring your roots, and the love of a good woman, and...serious stuff. But the ambitious action scenes, coupled with bland romantic pairing, cancel out the film's serious intentions; the emotional connection we should feel to the starcrossed couple just isn't there. If Doug and his friends were a little more two-bit, this might have succeeded better as the character study (with Charlestown a leading character) Affleck seems to have envisioned. On top of that, we're left with a conclusion so wrongheaded -- sentimentally phony and morally dubious, as well as painfully illogical -- that it comes close to spoiling the experience.
Raising the pedigree are some first-rate performances, chief among them Jeremy Renner as Doug's best friend. Renner is fascinating as the borderline-psychotic Jem, as much a criminal addict as a career criminal. Equal turns terrifying and pathetic, the actor blows away his co-stars every second he's on screen. This is a nuanced, arresting performance; it's rare to see a "crazy hood" character with such a palpable inner life. Blake Lively -- known primarily as one of the stars of Gossip Girl -- offers a surprisingly assured turn as Jem's tough but damaged sister. Chris Cooper (Adaptation) turns up in what amounts to a cameo appearance as Affleck's father, and shows exactly what a great actor can do with limited screen time; this is as perfect a bit of acting as you're going to see. Jon Hamm (Mad Men) offers strong support as the FBI agent determined to (finally) bring these guys down, and Pete Postlethwhaite (In the Name of the Father) is excellent as an old-time Irish crime boss.
The Blu-ray from Warner Bros. offers both the theatrical version and the extended cut, which features nearly half an hour's worth of deleted scenes. On the extended cut, a small movie icon appears on screen during the scenes that weren't in the theatrical cut. While there's nothing here that's a game changer, a some of it could have just as easily stayed on the cutting room floor, there are moments that help explore the relationships better and provide clarity.
The disc looks and sounds very good, the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer looking pretty solid. There's a bit of DNR, but overall the quality is filmlike, with solid colors and deep blacks. An English-language DTS-HD track is the only audio option, and like the video, it's solid, though unremarkable.
There's not a whole lot in the way of extras here. Affleck offers an informative feature-length commentary. We also get a half-dozen short featurettes grouped under the title "Ben's Boston." These are EPK-style "making ofs," and they're interesting enough, particularly the one dealing with the extras who are actual residents of Charlestown -- yep, it's a real place, and the crime stats are pretty on-target -- but there's nothing here to get too excited about. A second disc houses the DVD of the film, which features the R-rated theatrical cut and no extras. There is also an insert with instructions on how to download digital copy of the film.
The seamy side of Boston seems to have piqued the interest of a few filmmakers in recent years, but if Affleck was shooting for a successor to The Departed or Mystic River, he came up short. The Town is a well-made, exciting action film, but Affleck's strengths and weaknesses are the same here as in Gone Baby Gone: strong visual stylings, authentic sense of place, and good performances, but a script that's ultimately a let-down.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 153 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical Version
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site
* Cinema Verdict Review