With The Town, Ben Affleck proves that his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was not just a fluke and establishes himself as a talented director with genuine vision. While there are a few clichés such as a far-fetched love connection and a criminal with a heart of gold, these are vastly overshadowed by intricately designed action scenes and a strong supporting cast. What results is a commendable bank-heist movie with an unexpectedly optimistic outlook.
This movie takes place in Charlestown, Mass., a city infamous for producing more bank and armored-car robbers than anywhere else in the U.S. Tricks of the trade are continually passed down from father to son. Affleck directs himself as the lead character Doug MacRay, the head of a four-man Charlestown heist ring. Their weakest link is trigger-happy and aggression-filled Jimmy Coughlin, played flawlessly by Jeremy Renner.
The opening scenes place the audience right in the middle of one of their adrenaline-fueled bank robberies. Right away, we are able to witness how efficient and practiced the bank-robbery crew is, from using bleach to remove DNA traces to nuking the bank’s surveillance tapes in a microwave. Unfortunately for them, things do not go as planned, and Coughlin ends up haphazardly taking a hostage so that they can get away. The hostage’s name is Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall, and she is a bank manager.
The crew quickly releases her as soon as they make their getaway, but not without getting her license first. They soon discover that Claire lives nearby in Charlestown, and are nervous by her near presence, not being sure of how much she knows or saw. Volatile Jimmy wants to eliminate the potential problem by any means, but Doug persuades him to let him check her out instead.
As seen in the trailers, Doug and Claire end up falling in love, which makes for an extremely awkward situation. She has no idea that she is dating one of the bank robbers that held her hostage and dumped her in East Boston, but she is inevitably going to find out. There are more than a few tense sequences involving Doug’s secret, including one scene where Jimmy unknowingly interrupts a date and is less than pleased to see Doug spending time with Claire; his demeanor is nothing short of menacing. Doug knows he is on borrowed time, but he is desperate to change his life around and be with Claire.
Despite this sappy love story, Affleck keeps the film from going soft with the help of Renner. His character Jimmy is undeniably a sociopath who is driven towards destruction. There are several times in the movie where he physically hurts people for no reason other than to maintain some sense of control. He feels Claire is a threat to his sense of order, and he wants her taken care of. Despite all his shortcomings, Renner’s character is so complex that you certainly feel a bit of regret when he is finally cornered. It is an unnerving performance and definitely award-worthy.
Also helping to keep the action moving is FBI agent Frawley, played by John Hamm, who is determined to track down the bank robbers by any means possible. It takes a while for Hamm to dig into his character and shake off Don Draper from Mad Men, but he does so admirably and delivers a solid performance. Frawley quickly singles out the four crooks, who are all repeat offenders who have somehow evaded capture, but he struggles to find evidence to convict them with.
Rounding out the cast is Pete Postlethwaite as Fergie, a stiff crime boss who ironically runs a flower shop and simultaneously pares rose leaves while delivering deadly orders. Blake Lively also shines as Doug’s sometime girlfriend Krista. Lively fully embraces the grunginess and messiness of a drugged out single mother and shows a lot of promise for future roles. Chris Cooper delivers as Doug’s imprisoned dad, representing what inevitably happens after a long life of bank robbing. Despite being in only one scene, his appearance is powerful and gives a lot of insight into why Doug is the way he is.
Fueled by his growing relationship with Claire, Doug decides to ditch his life of crime and leave Charlestown. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done, as neither Jimmy nor Fergie intend to let Doug go so easily. His talents are invaluable, and Fergie refuses to employ the bank-robbery crew without Doug, even going so far as to threaten Claire’s life if Doug refuses. Doug’s struggle to extricate himself from his troubled past dominates the second half of the film. He is forced to lead two more large-scale robberies which lead to explosive standoffs with the police and FBI, ending in disastrous results.
Overall, this movie delivers as an action-packed bank-heist movie. While there are a few clichés, the movie works because of the intense and suspenseful plot, as well as the superb supporting cast. It’s definitely time to forgive Affleck for Gigli, and if The Town is any indication, Affleck is a gifted director who will hopefully be around for a long time.