On a summer evening in 2008, my flatmates and I met in a pub, having earlier separated to watch different films at our local cinema. The girls spoke first, eager to share their experience of the freshly released Sex and the City. “It was really funny!”, they excitedly related, “How was your film?” The question was met with a moment of silence. It wasn’t that my other flatmate and I hadn’t enjoyed ourselves, but it was safe to say that Gone Baby Gone had not been funny. A tale of child abduction and complex morals, the power of Ben Affleck’s directorial debut had caught us by surprise. It would take a couple of beers before we could fully compose our thoughts. With The Town serving as Affleck’s follow up behind the camera, it’s fair to say my expectations were high – and the director has done little to disappoint.
Another excellent addition to an ever burgeoning subgenre of Boston crime dramas, The Town follows Doug MacRay (Affleck), one of many career bank-robbers produced by the mean streets of Charlestown. His right-hand man is Jem (Jeremy Renner), a childhood friend whose mood swings mark him out as more than a little temperamental, though the remaining members of their four man crew usually keep this in check. Thrust into a crime scene almost immediately, we watch as the well-oiled bandits get their money, microwave CCTV tapes, bleach the place for fingerprints, make themselves scarce and torch the getaway vehicle. It’s fair to say, these men do not take chances.
“Dougie here’s a workaholic. He’s always taking his work home with him…”
But when Jem briefly kidnaps bank manager, Clare (Rebecca Hall), as an insurance policy for a robbery gone wrong, things go awry when the gang realise she lives just blocks away from their neighbourhood. Worried that masks may not have been enough to disguise their identities, Doug begins to tail Clare, but – confused by his conscience – soon finds himself drawn in by her vulnerabilty, starting a relationship. Determined to turn his life around, Doug soon finds himself in a moral conundrum; stay loyal to his friends or make a break for it, leaving Charlestown behind him? Meanwhile, a determined FBI Agent (Jon Hamm) is closing in on Doug’s trail and he’s not going to let him off easy.
Yet if the heavy-going nature of his debut made it seem like Affleck was trying to remind people that there’s more to him than Gigli, then The Town leaves room for a little a more fun. With banter fueled dialogue (“I’m trying to make the stuff sound authenticious,” remarks one of MacRay’s crew whilst straying from the witness testimony provided in a police interview) the film plays something like a cross between Good Will Hunting and Public Enemies; a classic story of professional criminal versus super cop given a romantic Boston edge. The result is both eminently watchable and irrepressibly tense. With Jon Hamm’s uncompromising Special Agent Frawley holding more interest than Christian Bale’s turn as Agent Purvis ever could and with Renner’s Jem always set to breaking point, it seems like Doug’s downfall could come at any moment – and from either direction.
You never know quite which way things are going to go and, as events build to the story’s climactic set piece, another potential influence becomes apparent with the film’s final act combining the suspense of Dillinger’s fateful cinema trip with the cop flooded showdown of Leon. Couple all this with some terrific supporting roles (Pete Postlethwaite terrifies as Fergie, an emaciated Irish florist-cum-kingpin, complete with west Belfast accent. Chris Cooper saddens as Doug’s father, an unrepentant criminal destined to die in prison) and it seems Affleck has done it again. The Town may not have the raw emotion of his debut, but it certainly retains the same ability to surprise.