The Town is a 2010 crime drama film directed by Ben Affleck and written by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Gone, Baby, Gone alum Aaron Stockard. The film stars Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaithe, Titus Welliver, and Chris Cooper. The film’s script is based upon the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. Affleck, Renner, Slaine, and Owen Burke play a group of career criminals in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. During a robbery, Jem (Renner), decides to abduct a bank manager, Claire Keesey (Hall), and briefly take her hostage after she pulls the silent alarm.
Following their escape, the boys meet back up. They don’t really want to hurt anybody and are very uncomfortable with Jem’s methods and maverick personality. Jem, however, discovers that Claire lives near the boys and they all begrudgingly decide something needs to be done about her. Jem offers to “get her scared” but Doug (Affleck) decides to do something about it himself. He insinuates himself into Claire’s life and begins a romance with her, unbeknownst to the rest of the group. Meanwhile, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) and Charlestown PD liason Dino Clampa (Welliver) attempt to track down Doug and his crew.
The Town is a great sophomore effort by Affleck as a director, and is in some ways a spiritual successor to one of my favorite films, Heat. It explores several of the same themes brought up in Heat, most notably the empathetic criminal angle. Affleck grew up in a wealthy, well-off family, but he clearly has an understanding of the logic behind the criminal element in Boston. There is a sociological concept called Merton’s Strain Theory.
Merton’s Strain Theory is set up like a Punnett Square. Cultural Goals would be making a lot of money. Institutionalized Means would be ways of achieving cultural goals, like going to school, getting a degree, and getting a good job that will get you that money. I fall into the conformity category because that is what I am attempting to do with my life. Criminals, like the ones portrayed in The Town and Heat want money and want to achieve the goals culture has set out for them, but reject institutionalized means, so they “innovate” by finding another way to make money; by being criminals. Doug and his crew aren’t bad people (except for maybe Jem), they are just guys that are good at robbing banks. It’s actually a hard thing to do, make criminals empathetic. The Town takes a few cues from the film that may or may not have inspired it and does so flawlessly.
Though Jon Hamm’s Adam Frawley isn’t as empathetic as Al Pacino’s Lieutenant Vincent Hanna in Heat, he doesn’t need to be. This isn’t a story about Adam Frawley vs. Doug MacRay, this is primarily a story about Doug MacRay vs. himself, Adam Frawley’s just a physical antagonist and catalyst for the more intense events in the film.
Doug MacRay’s father is hardened criminal named Stephen MacRay. Stephen MacRay is a legend in the crime world; he took life in prison over ratting on his crew. Doug’s friends seem to hero worship Stephen. Doug’s mother left when he was six, and his father was a hardened criminal.
While he is building his relationship with Claire, he explains that he had a chance to play professional hockey, but gave that up to pursue a life of crime.(He doesn’t tell her that part, though.) He chose this path probably to impress his father and impress his friends. This ideal is an empathetic one that we all struggle with. The only difference is that Doug’s a criminal. Affleck’s script, like his previous one, is near impeccable, and his directing and acting abilities are downright phenomenal.
The action in this film is intense, nail-biting, and extremely well shot. It had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Another highlight is the normally well-spoken and well-mannered Pete Postlethwaithe. The experienced actor is perhaps best-known for his role as Kobayashi in my favorite film of all time. Here, he plays a tough, foul-mouthed Irish crime lord named The Florist. It is one of the most interesting roles he’s ever played, and was his final role due to his death in January 2011.
Much like a real-life crew of bank robbers, The Town is a well-oiled machine that presents nary a mistake to be made. It is an incredible effort by an incredible director, writer, and actor. and if you are a fan of any of the actors in the film, if you enjoyed Gone, Baby, Gone, or you just want a good crime film, then this should definitely be on your radar.