Yeah, The Town isn’t a very good title. But the source novel by Chuck Hogan is called Prince of Thieves, and no one wanted this film to be confused with Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood movie. Besides, “the Town” is the nickname for Charlestown, a blue-collar Boston neighborhood.
Whatever it should have been called, The Town proves that Ben Affleck was no one-hit wonder when he directed and co-wrote another great Boston-based crime film, Gone Baby Gone. It’s an excellent adaptation of the book about a small gang of robbers doing the cat-and-mouse thing with a determined FBI agent.
Affleck’s a triple threat here, because he also stars in it as Doug MacRay, a local loser who seems to be following in his jailbird father’s footsteps.
Doug wants things to be better, and he wishes he hadn’t thrown away a promising hockey career. But these days, all he can think about is staying sober and planning the next heist with his pals.
The film opens on a tense bank robbery, with the masked guys calm while the victims are twitching with nervousness. Noisy fast-cutting between handheld cameras is mixed with silent black-and-white footage from surveillance cameras, ratcheting up the tension.
It’s a hell of a way to start the film, and Affleck keeps things crackling all the way through as personalities develop and side stories become major plotlines. It’s only his second feature behind the camera, but there’s no doubt he’s firmly in control.
He also gives one of his strongest performances. Doug is the architect of the gang’s jobs, but he’s hobbled by indecision and insecurity when it comes to other areas like, say, his love life. When he starts falling for Claire (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager he and his cohorts briefly held hostage while they were wearing masks, Doug gets even more confused.
Affleck chose a good cast. Jeremy Renner (nominated for best actor in The Hurt Locker) is the psychopathic loose cannon Jem, who’s ready for anything as long as it involves violence. (He gets his wish). Jon Hamm (Mad Men) is Special Agent Frawley, the FBI man who’s hot on the gang’s trail but finds himself frustrated at every turn. Alas, Hall isn’t given enough to do as the possible love interest; neither is Blake Lively’s Krista, as Jem’s sister and Doug’s long-ago girlfriend.
Nail-biting robberies surround a fantastically structured car chase through the cramped streets of Boston’s North End. And The Town is stocked with irony, as when Doug arranges to “bump into” Claire sometime after the robbery. An even bigger irony is that California boy Renner actually puts on a better Boston accent than Boston-raised Affleck, who must’ve had it beaten out of him in acting classes.
As with Affleck’s other feature, Gone Baby Gone, The Town ends up being about a search for redemption. Both are great achievements.