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.