The Town

Film Review by Jeffrey Winters

Ben Affleck directs, stars in and co-wrote The Town adapted from the novel “Prince of Thieves.” This is his second film as a director. His debut was Gone Baby Gone. After his 1997 Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting, he seemed on a downhill spiral. Affleck took starring roles in silly Hollywood films, that made him seem like a spoiled non-talent. I think he’s on his way back as a skilled artist.

The Town is a terrific film. Not only is it entertaining, well acted and quickly paced (compared to George Clooney’s sleeper The American), but it uses the environment as a character in the film. The story takes place in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. We are told more bank robberies have taken place here than anywhere else in the U.S. Robbery is a family tradition, passed down from father to son. Affleck’s cinematographer captures Fenway Park and the Boston area as if you were on a guided tour.

Doug McRay (Affleck) is the leader of a crew pulling off robberies with his childhood buddies. Doug’s best buddy Jim (Jeremy Renner- Oscar nominee for The Hurt Locker) has been in prison for six years and has already resolved he will fight to the death, rather than do more time if he ever gets caught. Jim is volatile and impulsive, pushing Doug to accelerate the pace and take risks that they normally don’t do.

During the film’s first bank robbery the crew kidnaps and quickly releases a hostage, something alien to their style. Soon afterwards they discover their hostage Claire (Rebecca Hall) lives in their neighborhood. Jim becomes paranoid that the captured Assistant Bank manager might be able to identify them (even though they wore masks). This puts a new twist on the story as Doug follows her to see if she knows anything.

While Doug pretends to accidentally meet Claire and develops a misleading friendship with her, he unexpectedly falls in love and begins to envision a way out of his life in Charlestown.

Joe Hann plays the lead FBI agent with a relentless and clever attack style. He goes after the crew he suspects of pulling off these very intelligent (but not high tech) bank and armored car robberies. He’s on their trail and the cat and mouse between Affleck and Hann is exciting. Do you root for “the law” like conventional films are written? Or do you root for “the bad guy”, like Robin Hood who you want to see outsmart, outwit, and get away from the law? I rooted all the way for Affleck and his team.

A good director brings all the elements together into a strong film that provides a moving plot with character development. In The Town Affleck gives several of his co-stars the opportunity to shine and reveal complexity that is often neglected in strictly plot driven studio films. In this case the wonderful actor Chris Cooper offers only one scene as Doug McRay’s (Affleck) father in prison for life. That scene like many others jumps off the screen with few words conveying tremendous emotion. Also elder actor Pete Pastlewaite as the local crime boss Fergie delivers one scene in particular that is memorable.