There’s one scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish in which Ewan McGregor and Steve Buscemi’s characters rob a bank only to find out that the vault has been wiped clean and that the bank is on the brink of bankruptcy. Now, while that film was mediocre at best, that one scene, which is satirical of the concept of the botched heist, just couldn’t escape my mind while I patiently waited for the lights to dim and Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort The Town to commence.
The Town follows a small blue-collar town in Boston by the name of Charlestown, which sports “bank robber” as its number one occupation among townsfolk. It also pretty much reconfirms Affleck’s talent as a director — following his excellent Gone Baby Gone which remains one of my favorite films from the last couple of years.
But Affleck also plays a leading role in the film as Doug MacRay, a seasoned professional in the bank robbery business, who alongside his team (which also includes James Coughlin — played by an excellent Jeremy Renner, who you may know from The Hurt Locker) scores thousands of dollars on every job. However, Doug quickly grows tired of the lack of emotional connection and begins seeing a bank manager by the name of Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) — who just so happens to have been a hostage on an earlier heist.
Because it’s named The Town I expected a lot of atmosphere in the film. It would have been absolutely unforgiveable if either Affleck or his fellow screenwriters Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard neglected to put emphasis on Charlestown itself. Luckily, the writers masterfully sidestep the potential problem and craft the so-called “bank robbery capital of America” into a tense setting. What I found interesting about Charlestown is the amount of pride that goes on in being one of the townsfolk. In fact, citizens of Charlestown have their own slang when referring to outsiders. But it’s no surprise considering the inhabitants of the town literally pass on the skills of stealing money from generation to generation and an unknowing outsider can quickly throw off the balance — thus giving the town more attention than it already has.
The Town also has a sharp palette of characters, which keeps it interesting. Doug MacRay and James Coughlin are portrayed immaculately by their performers and provide a sharp contrast with each other: Doug wants to maintain peace and actually expresses his emotions — which happen to be love – while James on the other hand is heartless, methodical, and violent, and gleefully asks “Whose car are we going to take?” when asked to beat up some local schmucks.
Jon Hamm’s character Adam Frawley, an FBI special agent who is assigned to the case of the bank heists, is stuck in the middle between Doug and James. At times, Frawley presents himself to be caring for his clients but at others, he’s manipulative and obsessive over upholding justice. Surprisingly Blake Lively lends an excellent performance as Krista Coughlin, a down and out drug addict and prostitute. Lively shows spot-on dramatic timing and surpasses all expectations.
But The Town isn’t all character drama; it does sport a couple of high-octane shoot-outs and car chases, my favorite of which has the team of bank robbers evading the police after a failed attempt to rob an armored truck.
The film, however, does have a couple of problems — there are some moments of predictable writing, some dry humor and the accents become cheesy and overdone at times. Thankfully, once the fantastic third act rolls in, all of these flaws are easily forgiven and turn out to be not damning in the least.
The Town is an exuberant motion picture that literally places Ben Affleck amongst the elite film directors — here’s hoping for another return to the director’s chair.