Charlestown is a blue-collar neighborhood in Massachusetts and crime can be a way of life there. Families pass down their knowledge and status in the crime syndicate like it’s an antique family heirloom.
Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is a smart and intuitive guy. He also happens to be the brains of a four-man robbery squad. He has grown up around crime and it’s what is expected of him. During a recent robbery, his longtime friend and partner James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) takes the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage as insurance. Now, the heat is on as the police and F.B.I. are getting closer to rounding out suspects. Leading the charge is Det. Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). Coughlin knows Claire is the only person who was around them enough to give any sort of possible identification, so Doug goes out to check and see what Claire actually knows. But when he gets around her, he is intrigued and moved by her and befriends her. Now, as Doug’s feelings grow for Claire and the heists are getting bigger and closer together, will he choose the life of crime or tell her the truth and go straight? Will his crew and the local crime boss Fergie “The Florist” (Pete Postlethwaite) let him leave the life that he is outgrowing?
Written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, “The Town” is based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan. Being marketed as a gritty crime drama, at the heart of this movie is a surprisingly moving drama about human interaction and relationships. Although there are a few subplots that really didn’t need to be pushed into this movie, overall the pace and story moved us swiftly through the streets of Charlestown as the group of robbers were being steadily pursued by the F.B.I. and along the way we had some stellar performances. Affleck’s second attempt at directing shows growth since the first movie he directed — “Gone Baby Gone” — and even though “The Town” doesn’t reach for the same emotional tug that movie did, it still seems to be able to pull you in and get you to root for the main character, even though he is a bank robber.
Affleck’s familiarity with the locations in which he shot this film really shows — a movie like this stereotypically would be shot dark and gritty but amidst all of this chaos and gunfire I found myself placed in some beautiful and organic areas in the city. Being encased by cement and old buildings during the robberies, and then out near parks and the ocean during scenes between Doug and Claire, really made Charlestown seem multi-dimensional and a fresh perspective on a classic heist film. Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall did have a connection onscreen and I believed their budding romance. The sweetness of the romantic relationship also helps bring a balance to the violence in the film. Hall’s portrayal of someone that was terrorized and is going through post-traumatic stress was sad and moving, the way her hands shook slightly whenever she remembered the robbery and her abduction or the way she’s slightly more guarded was subtle but still got the point across.
The stellar performances by the supporting cast really helped take “The Town” to a higher level. Jeremy Renner’s performance as the hot-headed best friend with a serious chip on his shoulder kept me riveted while he was onscreen. Yes, I did also want to punch him a few times, but that just means that he is doing his job correctly. The instability of his character made him fun to watch onscreen and kept you on the edge of your seat because you didn’t know what he was going to do next. Jon Hamm as the pursing F.B.I. agent was compelling and totally believable — the intensity in his eyes and the determination he has in this role were enough to make me forget about his womanizing character from “Mad Men” for the duration of the film. Another big part of this movie is guilt, Doug wants to get out of the robbery business but his friends won’t let him. Holding past jail time over his head and the fact that his father Stephan (Chris Cooper) is in jail for not turning “rat” on his crew, they use his fears and anxieties against him to agree to more bank jobs.
Some of the other supporting characters were unfortunately not fully realized, though. Blake Lively was one of them. Lively plays Krista Coughlin, James’ beautiful yet promiscuous sister and ex-girlfriend to Doug, and she didn’t have the right accent to match the other actors in the film and I mostly just found her annoying. She was barely seen in the movie, but when she was onscreen she was either in a bar drunk or high somewhere, plus slurred speech didn’t really help her plight to be engaging onscreen. She had the look right, but her story was barely even tapped in the film and her as a single mother didn’t come across well either. I was hoping to see a bit more from her since she was cast as the female lead in 2011’s “The Green Lantern” opposite Ryan Reynolds.
Not playing to all of the typical stereotypes associated with “heist” films but just enough to be a nod to popular films of the past, we get an eclectic mixture of action and suspense, drama with emotions and enough gunfire to win a war. Affleck has pulled off a decent film with lots to love in it. With current references to pop culture, an intense opening robbery like in “The Dark Knight,” a soft score to flush out the emotional scenes and a surprising amount of laughs in it, “The Town” has plenty to offer people of different interests and I think most will enjoy it.
“The Town” opens Sept. 17 and is rated R for: strong violence, language, some sexuality and drug use.
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