As The Town starts, we’re told through an opening card that the Charlestown area of Boston is responsible for a large number of criminals, in particular, bank robbers. We then get to see one group of bank robbers go into action and execute their crime. It’s brutal but very precise and planned to the extreme. The leader of this crew chooses a female bank manager to open the safe and they then abduct her as a potential hostage just in case a violent showdown with the police erupts. They escape and drop their hostage off on the shore.
The leader of this gang is one Doug MacRay, a very smart guy who’s been bred into this life. His crew, including one of his best friends, a very hardened criminal by the name of Jim Coughlin, learn that their hostage has since been contacted by the FBI. Coughlin wants to take care of this potential witness permanently, but MacRay’s cooler mind prevails and he starts to shadow her (her name is Claire Keesey). There’s only one small thing, he starts to really become attracted to her, as she represents a kind of life that he wants to have but can’t quite get to.
All the while, MacRay is being pressured into a couple more jobs while the FBI, led by one agent Adam Frawley, is breathing down their necks.
This is the premise to The Town, starring Ben Affleck and his second outing as a director. I’ve not seen his first movie, Gone, Baby, Gone, but if The Town is any indication, I should rectify that as soon as possible. The Town is truly some exceptional work.
Affleck has really matured as an overall talent, and it’s entirely evident throughout this movie. His performance is seasoned and lived in. His character just feels right and doesn’t fall into anything that’s emotionally forced. He’s a definite “bad guy” but he wants to find something more, though he’s also saddled with that sense of reality about his life that it might always be denied to him.
That’s just his acting skills, he’s really adept at telling this overall story (which he also co-wrote). The Town features three key action/heist sequences that are as thrilling and gripping as they come. There’s certainly echoes of Michael Mann’s excellent Heat through these sequences and one car chase that’s very much in the line of something that the late, great John Frankenheimer would do. As powerful as these sequences are, they wouldn’t mean a thing if the quieter in-between moments didn’t have the proper weight to them, and they certainly do. Though Affleck is the star of this film, he’s more than comfortable with giving his very good ensemble cast their moments to shine. These moments are all paced exactingly and naturally.
One of the better moments of the film finds Doug and Claire having a quiet moment at an outside cafe, when Doug’s friend Jim comes upon them. Claire had just revealed to Doug about remembering seeing a particular tattoo on the neck of one of the crew, one that just happens to be on Jim’s neck. This scene, which is very amiable and friendly has it’s own tension to it as Jim isn’t exactly hiding the tattoo, but it’s always out of Claire’s sight. Yet, it’s filmed in such a way that there’s always the chance that it will be seen and everything that Doug’s trying to do could fall apart in a single moment.
As I said, he’s got a great ensemble cast. Rebecca Hall plays Claire, and she really does represent a peace that MacRay desperately wants to find. Her performance is sweet and engaging and it’s easy to see why Doug would start to lose his way. Jeremy Renner plays Jim Coughlin, and while he seems a little slighter in stature here than what he seemed to me in The Hurt Locker, he’s a lot more vicious and ready to unleash that at a moment’s notice.
My favorite member of the cast though (other than Affleck) is Jon Hamm as FBI Agent Adam Frawley. Hamm has certainly earned his reputation through his television work on Mad Men, but if this movie is any indication, he’s got a huge career ahead on the big screen. He’s got the right heroic look and his mind is constantly at work, even though Doug MacRay’s mind is working just a touch faster.
Things are filled out with other good performances. Blake Lively plays Krista Coughlin, Jim’s sister who’s always had a connection with Doug. She’s here for only a few scenes, but they’re some great scenes and once Doug finds out more about his mother’s past, she further represents a life that Doug no longer wants to have. Chris Cooper plays Stephen MacRay, Doug’s imprisoned father. Cooper is here for only one scene, but it’s a powerful one and very telling to Doug what his life holds for him. Pete Postelthwaite plays Fergus Colm, the man behind many of the robberies that Doug and his crew pull off. Postelthwaite’s here for just a couple of scenes, but again, they’re good ones with a nice venality to them.
If I have any one complaint, and it really is a moot one, it’s just that there might be a few too many instances of “pahking the cah” in the Boston accent. This actually does get balanced out though thanks to Hall’s and Hamm’s characters, and further Hamm has a great bit of dialogue that actually does mock the whole thing. Like I said, it’s very moot and it really didn’t deter my appreciation for the film, and it shouldn’t yours as well.
This is masterful work from Ben Affleck, not just in front of the camera but behind it too. His supporting cast is absolutely top shelf and all have their moments to shine. His story is absorbing, the pacing exacting, and the action is riveting. The Town is very much worth taking a trip to. Highly, highly recommended.