The Town

When I hear Ben Affleck’s name, I tend to think of an actor, the guy in Goodwill Hunting or Dogma. Before going to see his latest movie, The Town, I had not actually been aware that Affleck was also a director, and still have not seen the movie he directed before this, Gone Baby Gone. For an introduction to Affleck’s talents besides acting, I was quite impressed with his work; Affleck was the star, writer, and director of the film, and he produces high-quality work on all three fronts.

The Town stars Affleck as Doug MacRay, a man living in Charlestown, Boston, the titular crime-ridden town. Doug used to have a promising career in hockey, but when that fell through, he fell into the same criminal enterprises that landed his father in jail, becoming the brains of a four-man bank robbing crew. The group’s other members include Jimmy (Jeremy Renner), the impulsive and violent “Mr. Blonde” of the group as well as Doug’s best friend, Albert (Slaine) the driver, and Desmond (Owen Burke) the electronics expert. Doug is able to lay out very detailed plans to cause minimal destruction while earning a high payoff and keeps his head down between jobs to try and keep off the police’s radar, and these qualities have made Doug’s group very successful.

As the movie begins, however, we see the pattern Doug has fallen into for his life start to come apart when the group robs a bank. Jimmy, on an impulse when an alarm is triggered, takes bank secretary Rebecca Hall (Claire Keesey) hostage to try and have some insurance for their escape. The group lets Rebecca go, but Jimmy is worried that she might have seen or heard something that could help the police catch them, and so Doug decides to keep an eye on her and find out what she knows. In the process, Doug winds up falling for Rebecca, and much of the first half of the film is Doug’s developing relationship with Rebecca and how it causes him to become introspective and re-examine what his life has become. From there, we see Doug struggle to keep his relationship afloat, get out from under the thumb of the local gangster that owned his father and his friends’ fathers (Pete Postlethwaite), and leave the town and his life of crime behind…an effort complicated by his friends’ refusal to just let him walk away and F.B.I. agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is working with Rebecca over her kidnapping and could be the law’s ace in the hole that could land Doug in jail…or dead.

The Town is a down-to-earth crime-drama, and does a very good job interposing Doug struggling to take back control of his life and get out of the cycle of crime with his developing relationship with Rebecca and some intense and enjoyable action scenes in the heists the gang has to pull off several times during the film. I thought that the heists and the scenes of Doug by himself struggling with his circumstances were better-done than the romance with Rebecca, but the movie manages to competently balance all three elements, so I didn’t think that any one element dominated at the expense of the others suffering. The acting definitely helps here; Ben Affleck makes Doug a very easy character to root for even when he is  robbing banks and dodging the police, and you can legitimately feel he is a good man whose life has gone all wrong and knows it. Jeremey Renner’s performance as Jimmy also impressed me; while he seems to be the typical loose cannon even the best-organized heist movies tend to have, Jimmy is more than just the stereotypical thug, acting both as a foil and a friend to Doug. While Doug’s growing romance with Rebecca makes him want to leave the town and end his life of crime, Doug’s deteriorating friendship with Jimmy shows Jimmy wants Doug to stay with the group and take care of his single mom sister, Krista (Blake Lively). Renner does a good job portraying a violent, troubled man dealing poorly with his best friend intending to leave him behind, and helps lend some real emotion to the scenes where Doug begins trying to change his life.

Despite having many merits, I felt The Town had some weaknesses, as well. The biggest one for me was the character of Rebecca Hall. While Claire Keesey did a good job acting her and her responses to a lot of the situations in the movies were entirely believable, I felt the character seemed a little less rounded and important than the others. I understand that she’s meant to be the example that inspires Doug to fight back against his fall into the town’s cycle of crime and make something of his life, I felt that the film still would have worked if the romance and her character was removed and Doug simply had another stimulus, such as finding out what happened to his mother, to make him decide enough was enough. This can’t really be said of the heists or Doug’s interactions with the rest of the cast. Also, while the dialogue is pretty solid most of the time, some moments had me raising an eyebrow at the screen; when he’s first trying to find out what she knows, Doug seems to ask questions in a way that would be extremely suspicious to anyone that has watched any movies about crime before, which does not appear to include Rebecca. The worst moment, however, was Rebecca simply mentioning her brother’s death in passing while talking about sunny days with Doug; the subject comes completely out of nowhere, is delivered with very little emotion, and is never elaborated on or mentioned ever again, and this in a movie where Doug’s comments about never knowing where his mother went when she left him and his father are brought up again later in a much more significant light. I’m still not really sure why the line was even in the movie at all.

Still, these are minor gripes, and with those aside, The Town is a very competently done and very enjoyable movie to watch. If you enjoy heists and crime dramas, definitely go give The Town a try.

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