His kind of town
Ben Affleck is in his element, directing a gang of Boston robbers
As directed by Ben Affleck (who made an impressive directorial debut with the Boston-based crime drama Gone Baby Gone in 2007), The Town has plenty of slam-bang action—two spectacular and elaborately detailed holdups, a couple of sensational and rather unlikely car chases through the streets of Boston, and a couple of live-action shoot-outs that are as weightless and abstract as video-game imagery.
But the most striking stuff in the film comes via the various dramatic triangles that spin off of the disconnects between the budding romance of bank robber Doug MacCray (Affleck) with bank-teller Claire (Rebecca Hall) and his princely code of honor among thieves. A complexly suspenseful little scene in which fellow thief Jem (Jeremy Renner) confronts Doug and Claire—with sly, casual menace at a sidewalk café—may be the best observed and most dramatically fraught moment in the entire film.
But there are plenty of other triangular mini-dramas in play—Jem’s drug-addict sister Krista (Blake Lively) hasn’t entirely relinquished her ties to Doug and she is the focal point of one of the ventures of FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) into the Charlestown demi-monde; Doug’s relations with his significant elders—the broken man who is his imprisoned father (a spookily sallow Chris Cooper) and Pete Postlethwaite’s seedy, evil florist/crime boss—loom large in the overall action as well.
Much of this is operating in something like Dennis Lehane territory—socially grounded film noir flirting with melodramatic soap opera. But the story of the princely thief and the sweetly resilient bank teller pulls the film’s emotional core in yet another direction—toward criminal romance or, let’s say, the outlaw ballad. At that level, Doug and Claire are characters of pure fantasy, and Affleck and Hall are nicely suited to the updated versions of Old Hollywood iconography that such roles seem to require.
As an actor, Affleck glosses over the social and moral grit that we need to see in Doug MacCray, but as a director he gets to the heart of the matter with all of the other major characters. Renner catches Jem’s seething impulse to cruelty without losing a sense of what might have brought him especially close to Doug in the first place. Hamm’s FBI agent is the ostensible good guy in this cops-and-robbers tale, but even as he briskly and efficiently goes about his righteous business, he seems as seedy and compromised as even the best of the criminals.
And Hall, stuck with a great role and an impossible character, brings a quiet credibility to everything she does in The Town, gritty moments and romantic gestures alike. And credit the director there too—he makes a point of honoring Claire’s point-of-view in several of the film’s most dramatic and intense moments.