After the utter brilliance of Gone Baby
Gone, Director Ben Affleck must have had a hard time
figuring out a follow-up project. Luckily, actor Ben Affleck
had laid low for a few years, rebuilding his reputation
after a string of (some unjustly) maligned performances.
And writer Ben Affleck, well, it was time to get back in
the game after spending years polishing his Oscar.
All that snark on my part is just to remind
you that Affleck really is a major talent, and if The
Town isn't a major film, it's still one worth checking
out. Based on the novel Prince of Thieves, the movie
really offers few surprises but a decent amount of entertainment.
It's a somewhat gritty tale of blue-collar bank robbers
getting a little too much heat on them, and the tension
that arises when the nominal brains of the operation, Doug
MacRay (Affleck), wants out.
A risky love story helps form the spine
of The Town, as MacRay gets close to a potential
witness to their last job. Even though the gang all wore
skull masks, assistant bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca
Hall) noticed a tattoo on the back of one's neck.
To find out if she knows anything, MacRay
spends time observing her, which turns to awkward friendship
than actual deep feelings. Always a sensitive boy, MacRay
still finds this rush of emotion a sign that it's time to
get out, especially when compared to the emptiness of his
flirtations with his best friend's sister, a drugged up
single mother played huskily by Blake Lively.
It's that best friend that really gets
in the way, the wild-eyed James Coughlin, given nervous
energy and menace by Jeremy Renner. He wants things the
way they never were but should have been, and when the local
crime boss keeps hiring their crew, that's just a sign that
things are just fine.
Affleck stages the robberies with a good
sense of urgency, and though the camera whips around, it
never loses the thread of the action. More importantly for
audience interest, each heist follows a different plan and
a different rhythm, one ending in a pretty good car chase
with a good button to it.
Like Gone Baby Gone, The Town
benefits from making the neighborhoods of Boston palpable.
There's a sense of the decency of the people - also given
us as a reminding post-script - but also the greyness of
the day to day, with no better example of it than a public
ice skating rink that the city government can't afford to
That detail comes back for a denoument
that might feel a little too convenient, and occasionally
throughout the movie Affleck makes other little missteps.
Yet they're also all gestures to give the audience something
meaty, such as a prison visit from MacRay to his father,
played by Chris Cooper. It doesn't really add much to the
movie, but it's a great vignette for Cooper.
So Affleck the director is a little generous
to his fellow actors. MacRay calls for a sensitive tough
guy, a role key but not necessarily all that challenging.
He works with the rest of his cast to bring out the best
in them, and though Renner might have the showiest role,
Affleck brings out the best in everybody.
and Lively get complexity in roles that are often thankless
in movies like this. Both get pushed into corners by Jon
Hamm as the FBI Agent tasked with bringing down the gang,
and Hamm makes himself a good mirror for Affleck.
both play men whose competence often gets underappreciated
because of their charm, and it would have been easy for
Hamm to let his antagonist have moments of going over the
top. Instead, he projects icy cool for most of the movie,
even when it's obvious that his character feels a little
Despite the charm of its character, The
Town doesn't offer much in the way of lightness. Most
of the movie is uncompromising in its vision of trouble
people making more and more troubled decisions. If it loses
a little of its conviction, it can be forgiven for being
so effective until then.
It's good, but not memorable, but would
probably look better if Affleck hadn't proven he could deliver
a truly great film with his first try. The Town is
a good place to visit, but it's not a neighborhood that
will bring you back again and again.