‘The Town’ Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated November 6th, 2010 at 10:06 pm,

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Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews The Town

In 2007, Ben Affleck’s feature-length directorial debut Gone Baby Gone hit theaters, proving something that few of us had ever dared to imagine: that Ben Affleck is a pretty good director. Back then, the actor/writer/director/die-hard Boston native still had the shadow of his tabloid celebrity image clinging to his back, but the quality of work he put out with Gone Baby Gone was enough to reverse that perception and return some of the respect that Affleck had lost while living in front of the perpetual light of paparazzi flash bulbs.

With his second directorial feature, The Town, Affleck seemed poised to silence even the most ardent critics who refuse to accept his transition back from pretty boy celeb to the gifted artist who sprung to fame in the ’90s with Good Will Hunting. So, does Affleck deliver on the good faith that has been slowly building around him since his talent as a director was first revealed? In a word: absolutely.

The Town is a gripping and tense crime-drama about Charlestown, Boston, an small municipality that has earned a rep for being “the bank robbery capital of America.” This is a town (traditionally Irish, but changing with the times) where people grow up in cesspool of violence and family dysfunction – where daddy makes his earnings either in blue-collar servitude or high-stakes crime and mommy is more likely to be strung-out on dope than she is to win housekeeper of the year award. Of the babies born in Charlestown, few ever escape – more likely they grow to be just like their parents before them, perpetuating the dark cycle of crime, addiction, dysfunction and utter despair.

Affleck not only directs but also stars in the film as Doug MacRay. Doug is a lifelong Charlestown native who used to have a life of promise as an all-star hockey player, but ultimately fell victim to the pitfalls of his upbringing and landed in the same criminal enterprise as his father (Chris Cooper), whose own criminal career ended in a never-ending prison stint. Unlike his dad, Doug is a smarter and more reserved criminal: he plans his heist jobs calmly and carefully leaving no detail out and never doing any more damage than is required to get the job done. When not pulling a job, he tries to keep his head down and his name and face off the cops’ radar.

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If Doug is the calm, calculating, criminal architect, his best friend Jimmy (Jeremy Renner) is the polar opposite: a hot-headed ex-con trigger man who’s ready leave blood on the street at the drop of a dime. Filling out the ranks of Doug and Jimmy’s heist crew are Albert (Slaine) the wheel man and Desmond (Owen Burke), the inside man who knows all about wiring and counter-surveillance. The four crooks each bring something to table and balance each other out – the jobs they pull are smooth, precise, and done with minimal fanfare or violence. For all intents and purposes, this is a crew at the top of their game.

Of course their luck starts to end the day that they hit a local Boston bank. Jimmy decides on a whim to kidnap terrified bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) as getaway insurance, and even though they are wearing masks and ultimately let Claire go, Jimmy can’t shake the feeling that she could be a liability. Fearing that his boy might do something drastic, Doug decides to keep an eye on Claire himself, and in doing so, he accidentally makes her acquaintance and the two are soon fall in love with one another.

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However, while Doug’s personal life is making a complicated turn for the better, his professional life is spiraling out of control. A relentless FBI agent (Jon Hamm) has gotten wind about Doug and his crew, while a local gangster (Pete Postlethwaite) is determined to keep Doug and his boys under thumb. And, despite their long history, Doug and Jimmy are starting to find themselves at odds over everything from Doug’s new love interest to the types of jobs they take and what lengths they’re willing to go to pull them off.

Gone Baby Gone showed us that Affleck has definite skill when it comes to telling a focused and engaging story on film – which shouldn’t be surprising, considering he’s an Oscar-winning screenwriter. Affleck co-wrote the script for The Town along with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, and the trio did a good job of distilling the central points of Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves into cinematic form, in this case the character arch of Doug MacRay and the larger commentary about what it is to grow up in a den of sin and despair like Charlestown. The film never wanders or loses focus; even at two hours it feels like it is always on point and economical with its time. This is lean, clean, movie-making that does exactly what it should: gets you to care about the characters involved, and keeps you guessing about what their fate will be.

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The performances in the film are all pretty excellent. Affleck makes Doug MacRay a worthy central character, at once admirable, dangerous, vulnerable, strong, smart, foolish, brave and loyal to a fault. This movie would’ve been hard to take if Doug’s character wasn’t able to carry the narrative – but luckily for the film, Affleck was able to both create a three-dimensional sketch of Doug that he brings to life with deft skill and understanding onscreen.

Of course a leading man is only as good as the support he gets, and in The Town, Affleck has some pretty strong players to work with. Jeremy Renner steals every scene he’s in as Jimmy Coughlin; as a no-holds-barred unapologetic thug, Jimmy is destined to go down as one of those cinematic bad guys people just love to root for, complete with a string of quotable lines that I’m pretty sure we’ll be hearing repeated at length in the months to come.

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Though their parts feel a bit marginalized in this boys club crime tale, actresses Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively are both standouts in the film. Hall (whose star is rising quicker by the day) has definitely left her mark playing the emotionally-torn Claire; if you don’t know this actress from her past work in movies like Frost/Nixon, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and The Prestige, it will be hard to forget her after this film. Gossip Girl star Lively is virtually unrecognizable (in a good way) as Krista Coughlin, Jimmy’s sister and yet another victim of Charlestown’s wicked ways. Krista stumbles through the life on a never-ending bender of pills, booze and coke, neglecting her young daughter while simultaneously trying to win back Doug’s love and favor, even though that bad romance is clearly something Doug has no further interest in. Lively manages to highlight Krista’s deep-seeded hurt and vulnerability, hid beneath a glassy-eyed fog of what could have been a cliched addict role.

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Jon Hamm manages to shed most of his suave Mad Men persona, playing an FBI agent who is as cunning and predatory as the crooks he pursues; he’s definitely a good guy, but he’s a good guy who has some very sharp teeth and claws. All in all, Hamm’s agent Frawley is a worthy adversary for Doug and his crew – somebody we know as “the good guy” but aren’t necessarily rooting for at the same time (a tough balancing act). The cameos by Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite (see above) are short but intensely powerful. As two seasoned Charlestown gangsters, the two veteran actors walk onscreen and clearly mark their territory: the monologues they each deliver at pivotal points in the film are moments that will likely be burned into your brain (Postlethwaite’s especially).

While Gone Baby Gone proved that Affleck has the director’s eye for cinematography, photography, pacing and structure, The Town proves that his directorial sensibilities extended into the action arena as well – something that Gone Baby Gone didn’t quite evidence. The heist sequences in The Town are all executed very well – from the actual robberies to the shootouts and car chases – the action is always clean, easy to follow (read: no shaky cam) and it’s all pretty damn thrilling. But while the action and suspense was good, I couldn’t fully ignore the nagging feeling that there is still some room for growth inside Ben Affleck. I totally believe that this man wasn’t meant to be a good director – he was meant to be a great one, but he isn’t quite to that point just yet. Almost there, but not quite there.

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Still, to the director’s credit you’re never quite certain what the outcome of the action is going to be, or what thresholds these characters are going to have to cross. The fact that you care about the people in the situation makes all the difference; you don’t just care about their physical well-being, you care about the emotional impact this life and violence and danger will have on them. And that’s a hard trick to pull off.

I was held in suspense all the way through the end credits of The Town and its hard for me to imagine somebody walking away from this film feeling bored. The story, action and characters are all engaging and well-crafted, and if the progression between Gone Baby Gone and this film is any indication, Affleck’s next (third) film is going to likely blow our collective socks off. A good start to the 2010 Fall movie season.

Watch the trailer for The Town to help you make up your mind:

[poll id="72"]

Our Rating:

4.5 out of 5

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  1. I actually logged on the internet as soon as the movie was over to see who he left money on the mantle for. I thought it was for the doped up sister with the baby, but from the answer above I believe it was the uncle who drove the bus.

    • oh, and this movie is pretty good. I enjoyed it as did my wife. I like when I feel nervous for characters…that simply means good direction and good actors/actresses. Not the best movie ive seen, but definitely worth owning. Id say 3.5-4 stars out of 5.

    • Doug MacRay left absolutely nothing, not even any money for Krista and her young daughter, when he broke up with her and decided to go with Claire. The message that The Town provides is that it’s okay to steal, terrorize, maim and kill to get what one wants, as long as one comes away clean, to treat woman like trash and exploit them for their own ends, and to make total dupes of law enforcement officials whose job it is to bring guys like Doug MacRay and his buddies to justice and punish them severely for their crimes.

      The idea of a poor, scared female bank manager falling in love with and getting romantically involved with one of the guys whoi’d victimized her in the first place, as well as abetting an armed felon and wanted fugitive simply doesn’t sit well with me. I just don’t buy it.

    • Doug couldn’t have cared less about the welfare and overall well-being of Krista and her infant daughter, Shyne. He exploited her for sex (just like many other men in town did), and left her with absolutely nothing for Krista to take care of herself and her baby when he spurned her for Claire. It’s a small wonder that Krista retaliated by ratting out Doug and his men to the Feds about where theiir next heist was going to be! She was angry at being treated like trash and then tossed aside for a well-educated but willfully stupid bank manager who opted to take up with Doug when he broke up with Krista.

  2. How can so many people have missed the fact that Claire was not only an accessory to Doug MacRay’s crimes when she kept in contact with him even after learning about who he really was? How can so many people have missed the fact that Doug MacRay, an armed felon and wanted fugitive, was on the lam from the law, which is why he wanted to get out of Charlestown. All he was interested in was avoiding another prison sentence.

    Doug skipped town for Florida for two reasons:

    A) He was on the lam from the law, and, especially after he went back to C-town and gunned down both Fergie the florist, and his henchman, Rusty.

    B) He got what he really and truly wanted out of Claire; a promise from her not to squeal to the Feds and turn him in. The fact that Claire was either naive enough or willfully stupid enough to rise to the bait and fall for Doug’s deceitful behavior in the first place is pathetic…and disgusting.

    Here’s an afterthought: The message that The Town conveys, imho, is that people don’t have to be held accountable for their actions and behaviors, and that criminal behavior and being an accessory to it are perfectly okay if people can get away with it.

  3. I also might add the The Town glorifies the worst aspects of Boston’s history, when Charlestown’s vicious Code of Silence was at its height, and Boston at its most mean-spiritedness.

    That being said, there are three types of people who liked The Town:

    A) Many naive or willfully ignorant people, many of who aren’t from the Boston area and are not aware of Boston’s sordid past.

    B) People who are from Boston and long for the days when Boston was at its nastiest and most mean-spirited.

    C) People who’ve had scrapes with law enforcement officials for whatever reason and/or who have criminal records and are therefore more likely to root for and sympathize with Doug MacRay and his men, and for Claire, who became an accessory to Doug’s crimes when she not only accepted an expensive diamond necklace from Doug, who’d bought it for her with his ill-gotten money (that, imho, should’ve provided a hint to Claire as to who Doug really was and what he was up to, since no ordinary blue-collar guy can afford to buy something so expensive for a woman (or women) in his life.), but refused to sever contacts with Doug after learning the truth about him through FBI Agt. Frawley, but also tipped him off with a “sunny days” code when the Feds who were in Claire’s apartment were on the verge of catching him and sending him to jail.

    D) More to the point, The Town normalizes the “Stockholm Syndrome” and its inverse, the “Lima Syndrome” and makes them seem like perfectly healthy ways to fall in love, when, in fact, they’re not.

    E) The fact that so many people not only bought into all the hype that was produced over The Town, most likely due, in large part, to Ben Affleck (who’s an overrated actor, btw), and either naively or out of willful ignorance, miss the fact that Doug was trying to cover his own butt so he could avoid another prison sentence, and fail to realize that Doug put the romance moves on Claire to shut her up and make sure she didn’t blow their cover by talking to the Feds, and that she was being manipulated, exploited and controlled by Doug (which she allowed to happen) almost defies belief.

  4. I would’ve liked to have liked The Town, but the ending in the theatrical version, where Doug eluded the law with Claire’s help, plus the Doug-Claire romance itself, helped ruin the film for me.

  5. This is something that still continues to dog me, even though I’ve written about it so many times. Why, oh why do so many people fall for such a hyped-up, cheap, overrated, trashy movie such as The Town, and, more to the point, refuse to accept dissenting opinions on it? It beats me…I don’t know!

    I admit to one thing, however: The Town left me rooting for the cops and the FBI, especially Agt. Adam Frawley and wanting them to catch Doug MacRay and his men and send them to jail for their crimes, and to have Claire either criminally prosecuted herself for being an accessory to Doug’s crimes and for tipping him Doug off with a “sunny days” code and enabling him to elude the law, or at least put on some sort of probation for her b*******. Sure, I sympathized with Claire at first, because she was the victim of an armed bank robbery, which wasn’t her fault, but I completely lost my sympathy for her when she not only got involved, wholesale, in a romance with Doug, but refused to sever all contacts with him even after she learned through Agt. Frawley who Doug MacRay really was, and what he was up to.. Unlike most people, who are sympathetic with Ben Affleck’s character in that film, and with Claire, I am not.

    Why should I be sympathetic to either Doug or Claire? The idea that Doug MacRay wanted to change and redeem himself through Claire is utter b*******, especially after he engaged in an act of vigilantism by taking the law into his own hands, going back to Charlestown, and gunning down Rusty and Fergie just because they threatened Doug’s ladygirl Claire with physical harm. Come on now! Doug MacRay’s still a criminal and he was not the decent guy he came across as when he and Claire met “by chance” in a C-Town laundromat.

    Doug MacRay, like his friends and partners in crime, are not only skilled, disciplined and ruthless in their quest for quick money through parasitic behaviors such as armed robbery, and who’d unquestionably kill or seriously injure people enough to put them in the hospital if they’re considered obstacles to what they want, but Doug knows how to come across as a nice guy, when he’s really not. He may not be crazy like his best friend and righthand man, Jem, but he’s a sociopath and a person of unprovoked violence just the same. The fact that he came across as such a nice, charming guy and deceived Claire by pretending to be an upstanding, law-abiding citizen, when he’s really not, is more than disgusting…it’s part of his criminal behavior. As for Claire, the fact that she took Doug’s bait and rose to it is pathetic indeed.

    If Doug had really wanted to change, imo, he would’ve turned himself and his guys in, come forward, negociated with the Feds for some protection for him and Claire, and stopped robbing banks once and for all. Doug left for Florida without Claire for two reasons:

    A) Doug macRay was an armed felon and wanted fugitive who’d been on the lam from the law for quite awhile, plus he’d just killed Fergie and Rusty.

    B) Doug had gotten what he really wanted out of Claire all along; a promise from her not to turn him in, which he got.

    How can so many people be so naive or willfully stupid as to miss that?

    Also, if Doug wanted to redeem himself, he would’ve come forward, served his time, and
    after a prison term, found honest ways to raise the funding for the renovation for the C-Town hockey rink himself, instead of using Claire Keesey as a go-between. What people don’t realize is that Doug wasn’t a nice guy…even to Claire, even though most people firmly believe that. The fact that he deceived her, seduced her and made a total fool out of her was vicious. The fact that Claire acted like a poor, confused, dumb-assed adolescent and allowed herself to be manipulated, made a fool out of and taken advantage of by Doug is pitiful, but she doesn’t deserve pity, due to the fact that she helped the very guy who turned her life upside down and caused her a ton of grief in the first place escape the law.

    Now that I think of it, I wouldn’t cared one iota if Doug and Claire had either ended up in jail, or been shot and thrown into the Charles or the Mystic River. An awful thing for me to say, but that’s how disgusted I am with this kind of thing.

    As for Kristina, well, I don’t like her sordid lifestyle or behavior (drug and alcohol addiction, sleeping around with too many men, and the fact that she was in the business herself by helping to book hotel rooms and get costumes for Doug and his men, and being a drug mule for Fergie and Rusty), but i’ll say this: I feel kind of sorry for Krista, in a way, because she had far fewer choices than Claire; she’d grown up with Doug and Jem, who, like many other men, abused and exploited her for their own ends. Krista’s daughter, Shyne, still an infant, caught in the middle of all this s***, was innocent, and I felt sorry for her, too.

    I’m so sick of people saying that what the white collar criminals (not defending them, btw) are worse than guys like Doug MacRay and his gang, because it’s unrelated, and not true.

    Neither the book Prince of Thieves, on which The Town was based, or the movie, make any effort to get at causes of bank robbery and other crimes, and the circumstances under which Doug and his men had grown up under. Moreover, the movie asks the audience to sympathize with Doug MacRay and his men, as well as Claire, who acted stupidly enough to allow Doug to take advantage of her, and who became an accessory to his crimes, while considering law enforcement officials assigned to bring criminals like MacRay and company to their knees and have them locked up in penetentiaries once and for all.

    Dez was a smart (he was college-educated and had a regular job) but stupid guy; he was pretty much just along for the ride, and did what he was told to do by the gang, and yet, at the same time, he seemed to be pretty much their victim, as well, if one gets the drift. Dez allowed himself to be taken for a ride, also.

    At least the book fleshes out the characters and spends more time on Dez and Krista, and doesn’t focus on the viewpoint of Doug and Jem so much, plus the book takes a far less sympathetic outlook towards Doug and his men.

  6. For the millions of people here in the United States and throughout the world who saw (and really loved) Ben Afflieck’s 2 year old movie, “The Town”, and thought it was so realistic, I’ve got a message; The Town is about as unrealistic as one can get for the following reasons:

    A) Nobody in real life with any sense would trip an alarm during an armed bank hold-up. That’s an excellent way to be seriously enough injured to have to go to the hospital, or worse.

    B) In real life, had Claire tripped that vault alarm, she would’ve been a dead duck.

    C) There’s no way anybody would’ve survived those car crashes and car chases, and there’ve never been any shoot-outs in the North End or Fenway Park. There’d be bloodied, broken bodies everywhere, and there’s no way anybody would engage in car chases in Boston’s North End without at least hitting a garbage can or brick wall, and there’s no way anybody could’ve torched the swap van without endangering residences or businesses in the district, as well as people

    D) There’s no way the poor, scared, vulnerable bank manager would’ve been treated the least bit kindly, charmingly or lovingly by Doug MacRay and his posse of bandits. Claire would’ve been treated much more harshly and taken advantage of, especially after being traumatized by the whole thing.

    E) The Town normalizes the Stockholm Syndrome, as well as its inverse, the Lima Syndrome, and hails a romantic relationship that develops under such circumstances as a normal, healthy thing, when, in fact, it’s not. What’s unhealthy about this sort of bonding between the captor and the captive is the fact that the captive is constantly at the captor’s beck and call, and whether or not the captive survives the kidnapping is decided by the captor, who has all the power, and therefore has complete control over the captive. The captive is brainwashed by the captor into having a certain amount of fearful respect for him, and thinks that he’s being kind and caring, when, in fact, he’s anything but that. This bonding between captive and captor is an unhealthy, exploitive relationship, even though The Town would make many people believe otherwise. The captive is often isolated from friends and loved ones, and begins to blame them, as well as the authorities and law enforcement people for her predicament, and to attack them, rather than the captor who committed this criminal act against her in the first place. Anybody who believes that Doug really cared for Claire, as opposed to acting out of pure selfishness and wishing to avoid another prison sentence for his crimes, which he deserved, is just kidding him or herself.

  7. The Town is a movie that’s so bad that it’s good.

    While I feel that The Town is a hyped-up, cartoon-like, cheesy piece of junk that’s more like a feature-length, made-for-TV soap opera than a regular movie, it’s good in that it’s led to some rather lively discussions, both on and offline.

  8. One has to ask him/herself why Claire is so interested in a guy like Doug MacRay, a career bank/armored truck robber who victimized her, turned her life upside down, abused her trust in him by lying about who he really was and manipulating her into not doing the right thing and going to the Feds, and who, in general was a total loser?

    It beats me. If I’d been Claire, I’d have kept my distance from Doug MacRay from the get-go.