Ben Affleck directed and co-wrote the script (based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves) for The Town, a crime thriller/drama set in the Boston suburb Charlestown, which has a reputation for its criminality. He also plays the lead role of bank robber Doug MacRay who is contemplating leaving behind his life of crime. Part of what is motivating him is his new relationship with bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall from Please Give). However, Claire was taken hostage by Doug’s gang and while Doug knows this, she has no idea of what he does for a living let alone the fact that he was one of the people responsible for a recent highly traumatic experience.
It is very difficult discussing The Town without acknowledging its resemblance to Michael Mann’s 1995 masterpiece Heat. Both films are about a highly professional gang of career criminals, both films depict a relentless man on the side of the law trying to bring the gang to justice and both films explore the dynamics of a criminal attempting to hold a relationship with somebody outside of the crime world. The Town even has a stylistically similar opening sequence where we see the tense build-up and then execution of a heist. However, while the Los Angeles-set Heat was an operatic and slick version of the classic cop-versus-robber story, The Town has more of a gritty aesthetic to it with a lot of emphasis on its Boston working-class neighbourhood setting. In this way it shares a similar look and atmosphere to James Gray’s films such as The Yards and We Own the Night.
The Town does suffer from being so derivative of Heat and many other similarly themed crime films. While it is entertaining it lacks a lot of complexity and surprise. Doug is too clearly defined as The Good Thief while the increasingly unpredictable and volatile James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker) is too clearly defined as The Bad Thief. Both Affleck and Renner deliver fantastic performances but the way that their characters develop is too blatantly signposted. Also, despite the promising dramatic intrigue behind the deceptive circumstances under which Doug and Claire fall in love, it is a scenario that is never explored to its full potential.
The Town is a decent crime thriller/drama but it has the veneer of a film with far more substance. The fact that it is as enjoyable and compelling as it is owes a lot to Ben Affleck in his second outing as a director. The action sequences, including a gripping car chase through the extremely narrow Charlestown streets, are exceptionally good. Along side Hollywoodland this is also one of Affleck’s better films as an actor and he is clearly very good at directing other actors, with Hall in particular really standing out. Ultimately The Town works perfectly well as a narrative-driven crime genre film but it falls short of being truly great.
[CINEMA AUTOPSY EDIT: ***Spoiler (sort of) warning***]
I completely agree. Heat was such a benchmark work that films like The Town really pale in comparison, particularly given the lack of moral ambiguity and (for mine) unconvincing romantic sub-plot. As for the Shawshank-styled ending…perhaps best forgotten.
The lack of moral ambiguity is a major problem with The Town I agree. I have to admit that the more I think about it the less impressed I am. I think my review was perhaps too generous.
I totally agree too. Good film, well-above average. Terrific camera-work, good acting from all, but would have been top-level with a little more context and just a little more about the characters. Makes me wonder what got edited out.
Wow, you nailed this exactly. You are also left at the end of the movie with essentially nothing. No message. Nothing really meaningful. Nothing really to keep with you. I wish there had been something to hold on to, but in the end, there wasn’t and it did, as you say, fell short. There is a shallowness in this film. Contrast its ending to that of Traffic and that’s really the difference. The ending of Traffic was perfect and brought it all back together. The ending here left you nowhere but in the shallowness you started with. Good, but not great or lasting.
The Town had the potential to be an all-time great, but fell quite short of that potential for the following reasons:
A) Wanting to cut the film down from four hours long was completely understandable, but Ben Affleck and his assistant producer(s) went way overboard. Too much was edited from the film, leaving too many loose ends, and there were too many unconnected dots that might well have made this film more credible.
B) The overblown scenes in the North End and (especially) in Fenway Park, were exaggerated to the point of unbelievability. Nobody could survive the kind of car crashes and demolitions that occurred during those particular scenes, and there’ve never been shoot-outs in Fenway Park, or a densely-populated area such as the North End. There was also too much exploding on the screen to make these scenes credible, also.
C) With the exception of Jeremy Renner, who did a great job playing the unstable, psychotic “Jem”, who was Doug MacRay’s best friend and right-hand man, and Blake Lively, who did a great job of playing the skanky, trashy whore who was drugged out and slept with every guy in town, Affleck really didn’t pick the best set of actors/actresses.
D) The romance between Claire and Doug was so unbelievable, and the chemistry between them so close to non-existent, that The Town could’ve done with considerably less of it.
E) The ending of the film was lousy, imho. The movie should’ve ended with Doug being forced to serve a long, hard term in a state penitentiary for his crimes, and Claire should’ve been criminally prosecuted herself for lying to the Feds about who Doug was, about her and Doug’s relationship, and for not telling about the “Fighting Irish” tattoo on the back of “Jem’s” neck after she was robbed and forced to open the fault, as well as for continuing to abet Doug and his crimes, and for receiving stolen goods (the duffel bag of ill-gotten money that Doug left her before he skipped town for Florida).
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