REVIEW: The Town [2010]

“It’ll be just like one of my sunny days”

There is just something about Ben Affleck and Boston. Raised in Cambridge, it seems that success and the hometown accent combine as though they are directly related. Good Will Hunting earned him an Oscar for Best Screenplay, his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone was—in my opinion—one of the best films of 2007, and now his sophomore effort The Town shows it wasn’t a fluke. I’m not saying he should quit his day job in front of the lens or anything; you just can’t call his behind the scenes success a coincidence anymore. Always a favorite of mine in comedic roles under Kevin Smith’s guidance, he never quite broke out as the action star Hollywood anticipated, (and who thought his pal Matt Damon would instead?). Without saying his very public snafu alongside Jennifer Lopez was the best thing that could happen to him; I will say his rise from the ashes reinvented a broken identity into someone looking to be taken seriously. A small role in Hollywoodland brought well-deserved kudos and his skill at filming baby bro Casey around Boston streets washed the dirt off a name people had written off. It’s great to see he hasn’t looked back.

Teaming once more with screenwriter Aaron Stockard and enlisting the services of Peter Craig, Affleck has adapted Chuck Hogan’s Prince of Thieves into an intricate plot of precision detail. Dealing with a team of armored car thieves, the subject is pretty heavy. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck in quite possibly his best acting role to date) is a washed up pro hockey player who got into oxycontin and fisticuffs off the ice, sending him packing back home to no one but his old friend and criminal partner James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). His mother had been gone since the age of six and pops was given five life sentences for robbery and murder; actions so memorable, they changed the rulebook to make armored car drivers stay in the cab, even when a gun was pointed at their partner. So, with nowhere else to turn, MacRay uses his smarts to orchestrate elaborate heists devoid of snags, covering all avenues from masks, gloves, microwaving security harddrives, and bleaching everything—yes, even the bullets loaded into their semi-automatic weapons. But despite the hard life and unwound acquaintances, he never lost the sense of compassion that made him go outside as a boy with ‘Missing’ posters of his mom … they helped find his dog the previous year, so why not her?

The audience is introduced to the players as they perform the film’s first heist. Barely seen onscreen before they storm the bank, you still know exactly who these men behind Skeletor masks are. While Slaine’s Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan and Owen Burke’s Desmond Elden are the help, grabbing the money and readying the getaway van, it’s the attitudes of Affleck and Renner that push through voices and actions. The latter is unafraid to show his violent impatience, threatening death and instilling fear in those he needs to stay calm. Himself recently removed from a nine-year stint on murder charges, the adrenaline flows freely and his conscience seems all but lost behind the jail door slammed at his back the first day incarcerated. Affleck’s MacRay, though, knows people. He knows the situations and the angles, calming down those necessary for success to come. Obviously unhappy about his virtual brother’s temper, the lack of self-esteem continues to push him into the next job. But, as his handling of their impromptu hostage at the bank, Rebecca Hall’s Claire Keesey, can attest, as well as his attending Alcoholics Anonymous sessions and drinking juice at bars, he is a man looking to change.

Both sides of the law could question the way he goes about that change. Acutely aware of Coughlin’s newfound desire for blood, MacRay volunteers to see if their hostage is going to cause any problems. In the process of checking up on her, however, a budding relationship is sparked and the downward spiral of his life begun. Whether he sees it as a way to cleanse his guilt or if he just won’t allow himself to miss the opportunity to make a connection with a non-Townie, someone worth more than the back alleys and dirty streets out his window, the bond can’t end anyway but bad. The FBI, led by Jon Hamm’s Special Agent Frawley, and local police enforcement headed up with Titus Welliver’s Dino Ciampa have found a error in MacRay’s meticulous planning and they are knocking on the door just as Doug is about to put the life behind him. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite as easy as packing up to go. His past comes flooding back in a hurry as connections between he and Coughlin’s jail time are revealed, as well as the relationship between his criminal father (Chris Cooper), missing mother, and kingpin boss Fergie ‘The Florist’ (Pete Postlethwaite). The thing about good thieves—they’re only good until they get caught in the crossfire.

Affleck has the aesthetic of Charlestown down pat. Alternating between populated districts, public gardens, defunct hockey rinks, and dive bars, his style is smoothly laid over the proceedings, showing us everything needed to understand dialogue between friends and illuminate hidden mysteries as they are revealed to the characters, without any real expository scenes. We are dropped into this world, learning elaborate backstories by body language, attitude, and carefully sprinkled tidbits of their histories together. As a result, the actors have to be at the top of their game to subtly translate their performances into three-dimensional human beings, something everyone—even Blake Lively—does. Hall, Affleck, and Renner each find at least one moment to express their conflicting natures, rendering them much stronger than any stereotypical victim, antihero, or villain would be.

Infuse the tense robberies, each utilizing new costumes, with a humor that never overpowers the drama and you have a complete package. It takes guts to follow an extended car chase through tight Boston streets—automatic gunfire destroying property left and right while police cars get caught up or crashed into—with the four gunmen exiting their switch car right in front of an officer on patrol, a statuesque pause giving the audience a mixture of suspense, anxiety, and laughter. Just as the tension ratchets up to its highest point, a little levity breaks through to get us ready for the next dark descent. It’s a common occurrence, spanning some great one-liners and sight gags like a little boy watching as a van of creepy nuns drives past. This deft control and balance makes The Town an expertly crafted crime thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat while also portraying the complicated soul of MacRay. A hero and villain wrapped into one, his is the kind of man you root for while also hoping to watch his part in the mayhem stopped.

The Town 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] (L-R) REBECCA HALL as Claire Keesey and BEN AFFLECK as Doug MacRay in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Legendary Pictures’ crime drama “The Town,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Claire Folger
[2] Jeremy Renner stars as Jem in Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Town (2010)
[3] Jon Hamm stars as Adam Frawley and Blake Lively stars as Krista in Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Town (2010)

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