Judge Patrick Rogers always craves a wicked good grinder with some hots and capicola.
Our review of The Town (Blu-Ray), published December 22nd, 2010, is also available.
"I need your help. I can't tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we're gonna hurt some people." "…Whose car we gonna take?"
Living fifty minutes north of Beantown provides me a more critical eye towards the influx of Boston-based films over the past ten years. You can't just slap your set in Toronto and populate it with actors who exhibit a Jersey accent while trying to sound like JFK. Luckily, The Town nails it, delivering a highly tuned heist film that hits all the Boston landmarks, from the cobbled streets of the North End to the gates of Fenway. Though you can argue its conventional approach, you can't deny its effectiveness.
Facts of the Case
Hailing from Charlestown, a Massachusetts town where bank robbing is a way of life, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck, Dogma) was practically born into a life of crime. He's a washed up high school hockey star who's also the brains behind a serious and successful squad of bank robbers. Complications arise, when Doug's best friend Gem (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker) decides to take Claire (Rebecca Hall, The Prestige) as an insurance policy for their getaway, before dumping her on the side of the road. But when Claire starts talking with FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm, Mad Men), Doug takes up the task of wooing her with the hidden aim of finding out what she knows. The trouble is, when Doug starts to fall in love with the mark, he must weigh the price that has to be paid to leave behind a life controlled by men who don't let you walk away.
It's astonishing The Town is as good as it is, considering Ben Affleck is in the director's chair. While his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, had a nice down and dirty style—buoyed by great performances and a highly cultivated sense of community—I still found it too rough around the edges to consider Affleck a bona fide actor-turned-director. In his sophomore effort, the man shows so much restraint in the quieter character moments and a ferocious sense of realism in his action set pieces that the combination of the two tones creates an amazingly rich experience.
About the only thing The Town has going against it is a little film called Heat. There's no getting around the fact that it's next to impossible to make another contemporary bank heist film as good or as textured as Michael Mann's masterpiece. Even Affleck pays homage, but settles on emulating Heat instead of topping it, defining this group of robbers not as heroes or villains but as flawed men defined by their surroundings, the people who love them, and the men that track them down.
The action in The Town exhibits the same sense of realism Mann conveys through long takes and minimal cuts. The sound is blisteringly ferocious, the characters and their surroundings immaculately framed, and the suspense is nerve rattling. Affleck understands exactly why this genre works, even if he brings nothing new to the table. The important thing is the atmosphere of the Boston area lends itself perfectly to the material (adapting Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves), and while I still feel the final heist at Fenway is a little hokey, you can't deny how magnetic it feels to see these men shoot their way out of such a hallowed place.
Assisting Affleck on the screenplay is Peter Craig, one of the best contemporary writers of crime fiction. You can see Craig's masterful fingers in every inch of the film, especially the interplay between characters and the stark sense of community built around these Charlestown renegades. Even though the performances are strong across the board—especially Renner's loyal yet psychotic second-in-command—there's a feeling of lethargy that starts to creep into some of the quieter scenes. This is made more evident in the film's extended cut where the pace grinds halt, with 25 minutes of additional footage centered around an already bland romantic subplot. Because of this, the theatrical cut is far stronger.
But let's get down to the substance of this Ultimate Collector's Edition, because I imagine you're here to see if its actually worth the investment. The Blu-ray houses the same exact 2.40:1/1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer as the original release, which had a great filmic quality and a nice level of detail. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is similarly solid, though the back channels have little to do in the quiet moments, while the noise sometimes swallows the dialogue in the action set pieces.
In terms of bonus features, new to this release is the aforementioned extended cut with an alternate ending that's much darker than the original, but at the same time elevates the film because it's not mired in sap. We also get a 48-page photo book containing production notes and actor bios; a 15-page fake dossier containing rap sheets and mugshots for robbers; a map of Boston so littered with information and ridiculous graphics it's only good to hang as a poster in a beer-soaked dorm room; a note Affleck describing why the extended cut is important to him; and a ridiculously goofy sheet of temporary tattoos replicating the ones you see in the film. Ported over from the previous Blu-ray is an informative commentary by Affleck that covers both the theatrical and extended cuts, and an exhaustive behind-the-scenes featurette ("Ben's Boston"). It's all fluff used to pad an unnecessary re-release, but the fact that we get the theatrical release and two extended cuts in HD is enough to make this set worth considering.
The Town is not a perfect film. While it has amazingly well-directed action scenes and superb performances, there's too much bloat in the second and third acts. However, the inclusion of a darker ending in this Ultimate Collector's Edition demands the viewer's re-evaluation.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Cut
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