The Town is a perfectly adequate crime drama, although it isn’t the compelling masterpiece that director, co-writer, and star Ben Affleck was in all likelihood hoping it would be. Perhaps he was too focused on the crime and not focused enough on the drama. Consider the final shootout scene, which in itself is an overused convention; it doesn’t quite become boring, but it definitely goes on longer than it should. Watching it, I was well aware of its technical merits, but at the same time, I was disappointed that it wasn’t giving me anything I haven’t already seen many times before. This is by no means a bad movie. Far from it – the story is both suspenseful and heartfelt, most of the characters are wonderfully developed, and its raw, gritty look effectively establishes mood. I was just hoping for a film that reached a little higher.
Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachusetts, an area of Boston that has the dubious distinction of being the bank robbery capital of the world. We meet career criminals Doug MacRay (Affleck), Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) as they pull off yet another heist, guns in hand and concealed by Halloween masks. The bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), is taken hostage by Jem after the silent alarm is tripped, although she’s let go after they escape. Fearing she will go to the cops after discovering she lives within proximity of Albert, Jem decides to confront her. Doug, aware that Jem is a bit unstable and capable of making the situation worse, volunteers himself for the job.
And so, as casually as can be, he enters her life, strikes up a friendship, and then – you guessed it – falls in love with her. He stealthily asks her a number of questions relating to the robbery, trying to see how much she knows and whether or not she’s likely to squeal. As it turns out, she did notice something about one of the robbers: A fighting Irish tattoo on the back of his neck. She was noticing Jem. In a contrived but nonetheless carefully crafted scene, Jem suddenly joins Doug and Claire as they eat lunch outdoors; Doug is careful to keep Jem’s neck out of Claire’s sight, even going so far as to feign a hug as he gets up to leave. Having just described this scene, I realize that there’s no way to really convey the tension. One must see the film in order to feel the suspense.
Keeping tabs on Doug and his gang is a ruthless FBI agent named Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), all threatening words and intimidating poses. It’s strange – Hamm’s performance is about as decent as anyone could hope for, and yet something about his presence in this film doesn’t register with me. He didn’t seem credible in the role. Perhaps he’s too refined for a character so hard boiled, so rough around the edges, so gruff and unpleasant. There’s a scene, for example, in which he interrogates Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex-girlfriend, Krista (Blake Lively), the drug-addicted single mom; his words are stern and insensitive, and yet his expression exhibits nothing but calm and caring, as if he genuinely wanted to help this woman. Either this character was supposed to be a contradiction, or Hamm was both miscast and misdirected. Whatever the case, it doesn’t play as well as it should.
Other subplots weave their way into the story. One involves Doug’s incarcerated father (Chris Cooper), who’s unwilling to help his son find closure over the disappearance of his mother years earlier. Doug would like to believe that she retreated to Florida, where he was told she had relatives. Another involves Irish crime boss Fergie the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), who sets up one last job for Doug and his gang at Fenway Park. Doug, as would be expected in a movie like this, feels so strongly for Claire that he no longer wants to be a career criminal. Fergie, in his own nasty and cold-hearted way, insists that Doug take part. How it plays out I leave for you to find out. I will say that, given everything that happened up to that point, the ending isn’t all that surprising.
I’m sorry to say that I missed Ben Affleck’s previous directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone. But on the basis of this film, it’s obvious that he knows what he’s doing behind the camera. He also knows how to write, or at least co-write, a screenplay, and we need no further proof of this than the Best Original Screenplay Oscar he earned along with Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting. The long and short of it is, The Town is a perfectly competent film. My hope is that Affleck will strive for something grander in the future. The film goes through the motions, which is to say that it gets the job done but fails to reach for anything beyond the conventions of typical crime dramas. Considering all the hype generated by the studios, considering the talent involved, can you blame me for wishing someone had tried a little harder?