Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay
Jeremy Renner as Jem
Jon Hamm as Adam Frawley
Rebecca Hall as Claire
Blake Lively as Krista
Titus Welliver as Dino
Slaine as Gloansy
Ed O'Keefe as Morton
Brian Scannell as Henry
Mark Berglund as Eric
Directed by Ben Affleck
This review is part of ComingSoon.net's coverage of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival
According to the opening title crawl, the Charlestown area of Boston produces the most bank and armored car robbers than anywhere else in the country, four of them we meet as they're committing a violent robbery of a Cambridge bank wearing skull masks, taking the pretty assistant manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage after she opens the vault for them. The incident really shakes the woman up, but one of the masked robbers Jem (Jeremy Renner) believes she may have spotted his neck tattoo and the leader of the group, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), takes it upon himself to keep an eye on her. Meanwhile, FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is set on stopping the local crime spree starting with the Cambridge robbery and Claire may be his best chance at catching them.
A good crime drama is always appreciated, especially if it takes a different approach to the genre mastered by the likes of Scorsese and Michael Mann. Following the generally positive response to "Gone Baby Gone," Ben Affleck is tackling his second movie as a director, this time starring in the film as well. While the tone and look of "The Town" is very different, it still deals primarily with the lower working class of Boston, though it's hard not to be reminded of police dramas like "Pride and Glory" and Antoine Fuqua's far superior "Brooklyn's Finest" in terms of how the movies spends its time looking at the other sides of characters we've seen in hundreds of movies.
As seen at the Toronto Film Festival, in this case we're asked to accept violent criminals and bank robbers as the humanized protagonists, something which is somewhat hard to swallow, especially with the somewhat forced idea of a bank robber falling for his hostage. This premise is especially suspect when Claire tells Doug she would immediately recognize the voices of the men who took her hostage, then proceeds to spend hours talking at length not only to Doug but also to Jeremy Renner's character during a moment that could have played up more for the tension. Even so, it's hard to believe this relationship could ever work regardless of whether Doug's interests in Claire are genuine, because he's still lying to her and one expects she'll eventually find out the truth.
With "The Town," Ben Affleck gets deeper into the people in and around the Boston area with a strong main character in Doug to explore those whose lives are pulled into the wrong side of the law by circumstance. It's a great role for Affleck, though his performance feels like it lacks focus, one presumes due to him directing as well, though he has surrounded himself with a strong enough cast who constantly keep him on track. Rebecca Hall is a standout in the role as the manager, although Affleck's best scenes are with Jeremy Renner, who is highly credible as Doug's hair-triggered partner in crime. For whatever reason, the other two members of their crew are barely even mentioned by name. On the other hand, the casting of Jon Hamm as an FBI agent might have worked better if not for the strange look he sports, having a perfectly-coifed haircut but with a few days' facial growth. A small detail like that makes it hard to accept him in the role, though he does have a few strong moments, particularly his interrogation scene with Affleck. Blake Lively shows up early in the movie as Doug's girlfriend, also presumably the mother of his child, and she's not really missed when her character vanishes for a good portion of the movie, and the decision to bring her back to play a large part in the third act is odd if only because she goes overboard with the drama. Affleck's one scene with Chris Cooper as his jailed father is excellent, one of the strongest dramatic moments of the film, yet it's a scene that deserves some sort of callback that never happens.
Normally, the dialogue scenes used to establish the relationship between the characters in a story are always greatly appreciated, but in this case they consistently kill any momentum, often at the worst possible point, as the viewer's adrenaline has been pumped up by some of the brilliantly staged heist sequences. These violent scenes are handled similarly to the film's most obvious influence, Michael Mann's "Heat," as much as the rest of the movie is influenced by the character-driven crime thrillers of the '70s.
As Doug and Claire get closer and he's deciding to quit the bank robbery business to be with her, he's forced into one more job by a tough mobster, played by Pete Postlethwaite, who fronts as florist. This job involves an elaborate money heist at Fenway Park, and though Doug feels it's a bad idea, he goes through with it when Claire's life is threatened. Either way, it's a great climax to the film that at times feels like it's losing its way.
Obviously, Affleck has a credible handle on the locals of his Boston environment, much more than Eastwood and Scorsese did in their own forays into his 'hood, though it feels like after "The Town," it might be a good idea to move on and explore other locales and subject matters.
The Bottom Line:
While "The Town" isn't quite as strong as "Gone Baby Gone," maybe due to the less-developed source material or Affleck trying to hold things together onscreen as well as off, it's still a solid sophomore effort with the heist sequences being well worth the price of admission.