Making a change.
(The Town, Ben Affleck, USA, 2010, 123 mins)
You can take the man out of Boston, but you can’t take Boston out of the man. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is looking to escape the ideologies that surround him in the bank robbery capital of America, Charlestown. This is no doubt a narrative we have seen repeated in crime dramas many times; the criminal with a forbidden love, existing in a community that lives and breathes for violence and the ways their fathers taught them. Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town features all the elements of a decent criminal mind – the driver, Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan (Slaine), the psychotic weapons handler and best friend, James ‘Jem’ Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), the architect, Doug MacRay (Affleck) and the man who calls the shots, florist Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite).
As the film begins the audience are a witness to a key bank robbery, involving quick pans and close up shots of hostages; it is so fast paced there isn’t a moment to blink. Affleck’s attention to detail is impressive; the bleaching of everything they’ve touched, putting the hostages’ phones in water, blowing up the last vehicle they use. The transition from the CCTV footage observing them in silence back to screams blaring and the intense action is startling, but in an effective way that draws the audience closer to the situation. Affleck’s focus on hostage bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is the mere start of the intimate shots he shares with her, in and out of the adventurous masks, as MacRay eventually states he wants to “put this whole fuckin’ town in my rear view”.
Affleck’s character is very likeable, as shown by his Pearl Harbour (2001) days where he shows his ability to be romantic, however this could be seen as an influence on his new, harder character. As Claire is forced to open the safe of her bank, she struggles and shakes and loses concentration, initiating MacRay to step out of his intimidating character and steady her hand and as he instructs “Take your time”. Hall reflects an oblivious and sympathetic victim which makes the film more sentimental, she is nothing but vulnerable, but as convention should go, she soon toughens up. The emotional scenes incorporated into the film occasionally feel drawn-out and a little feigned, and you’ll be lucky if you can actually hear them as dialogue was sometimes impossible to understand due to some unconvincing Boston accents.
The chases are electrifying and intense, as the audience are drawn through narrow roads Affleck captures the getaway from numerous high and low angles, the shaky camera technique almost reflecting the problems constantly going around MacRay’s head and the emotional walls that are restraining him in Boston. Slow motion action produces more satisfying explosions throughout, but the black and white flashbacks that Affleck has roughly placed within the film make the narrative appear tacky. The beautiful scenery of Boston captured in bird’s eye view is used frequently to fill in gaps between narratives, making the audience wonder whether Affleck has really excelled from Gone Baby Gone (2007). He hasn’t got it all wrong though, Ben Affleck still knows how to make an audience laugh in strained moments, and in one favourable scene we watch our criminal friends exit their vehicle straight in front of a police car and a policeman who stares in bewilderment, in this moment of dark humour.
The focus on ‘one last job’ is found in a variety of films; it’s the finale, the climax, the decider of how the story closes, it influenced the fate of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Inception (2010). The last and third job of The Town is located in Fenway Park, and by this point we are starting to suspect the pressure on FBI agent Adam Frawley (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) as the atmosphere escalates and he pursues the men himself with a shotgun. Hamm seizes the opportunity to illustrate a protagonist similar to his Mad Men character Don Draper, and keeps the determination of his team pushing through against the tenderness of the film.
The Town is a mature crime thriller and very conventional with its themes, similar to Ben Affleck’s first directorial hit Gone Baby Gone, again set in Boston. It is primarily about a destructive community of broken men reflecting upon their past. We are staring into the lives of families who have bonded through their weapons and loyalties. Affleck as director allows his cast to shine; Jeremy Renner’s reckless and cocky character from The Hurt Locker (2008) exceeds expectations once again as fierce and stubborn best friend Jem. He has an ability to manipulate MacRay in a way that the audience actually encourages the bad guy to get away from Boston. Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively echoes Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) from Gone Baby Gone as a single mother and Jem’s brother who turns to drugs and is involved with MacRay “all her life”. The audience are the only ones who know MacRay’s secrets, and as we are lead to a powerful moment of discovery between the characters, MacRay draws closer to grasping a better life for himself, in front and behind the camera.