Towns across America contain diverse sections, and as evidenced in The Town, Boston is no exception. This gritty crime drama, directed, co-written and starring Ben Affleck has a lot going for it. The plot of the story centers on a team of bank robbers who push the envelope, but at its heart is a tale about romance, betrayal, and living an objectionable present in order to rectify the past.
Doug MacRay’s (Affleck) life seems on auto pilot. He works at a gravel plant, robs banks on the side, still hangs with the neighborhood bro’s he grew up with, and thinks one-night stands are a good substitute for romance.
Although the gang’s bank robberies have been accomplished so far without physical harm to victims, that changes during the current break-in when Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) savagely bashes the assistant bank manager in the head. Lying frightened and horrified on the floor, bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is watching.
While discussing their heist afterward, Jem reveals he’s worried that the manager saw something which might identify them -- and since she lives nearby, wants to “take care of her.” While Doug seems invested in this take-no-prisoners attitude, he’s against harming innocent people and knows Jem’s intention. He decides he will keep an eye on the girl to see if she’s in contact with the FBI.
What starts as a supposed accidental meeting at the Laundromat, soon turns into a romantic relationship between Doug and Claire. With the next heist demanded to happen almost on the heels of the prior one, Doug is forced to go along without time to question or object.
The story, based on the book Prince of Thieves, The Town by Chuck Hogan, quickly moves from a typical crime thriller to a character-based story about survival. Doug’s mother and father split when he was young. His father (Chris Cooper) went to prison and Doug was raised by Jem’s family. The only role model Doug had was a criminal, so he followed in his father’s footsteps. And while he and his cronies plan out every detail of their next heist with precision, Doug’s personal life is pockmarked with bars and one night stands.
In an emotional visit with his father -- the only scene with the underused Cooper -- Doug announces he’s ready to make some changes. Yet when he tells Jem, someone he considers a brother, that he’s ready to, “put this town in my rear view mirror,” Jem threatens and attacks him. Doug faces even more of an obstacle when he tells this to the real man who plans their heists, a florist named Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite) who threatens to kill Claire if Doug leaves town.
At the heart of belief in this story are the characters, and the cast does an excellent job making us believe. Affleck wears his character like an unzipped jacket. He can’t keep the negative aspects out of his life; yet he can’t keep the good he’s allowed in without getting a new coat entirely. There’s rarely a moment in the film when we don’t feel Doug’s pain and uncertainty.
Renner (The Hurt Locker) turns in another credible performance as a baddie who could have been clichéd, but he adds an emotional arc to his character that heightens the drama of the story. Jon Hamm appears poised as the FBI agent, but I kept thinking his character should have been more assertive. Postlethwaite simply couldn’t have been more menacing as the evil mastermind. In the role of Claire, Hall (Frost/Nixon) works but never outshines her co-star.
Robert Elswit’s (Salt) superb cinematography perfectly captures the film’s tone, place and era. Within minutes of watching this movie it becomes your home town; you smell the salty air; recall the local food and feel it’s your bank they’re robbing. Clichéd car chases and bloody shoot-outs aside, the engaging script -- co-written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard -- is solid and enhanced by excellent and authentic dialogue.
While I was disappointed in the ending of The Town, it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of seeing the film. Director Affleck takes a solid script and shows that he’s a man who understands all the ins and outs of what’s needed to make this story work. Fortunately, he also had enough passion and heart to cast the right lead actor to make it happen.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated “R” for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.