Based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, director Ben Affleck delivers an action-packed, suspense-filled crime drama populated with great performances by a talented cast. While appealing on many levels, The Town ultimately left me unsatisfied due to its conclusion and its clichéd characters.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, leader of a bank-robbing crew from Charlestown, MA, a city notoriously known producing bank robbers. During the first job that opens the film, Doug's team reveals themselves to be very knowledgeable about their business and that of the bank's inner workings. When one of the employees trips the alarm, loose cannon James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) beats the assistant manager and takes bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage.
After releasing her, the crew discovers Claire lives in their neighborhood. James wants to send a message so she won't talk to anyone; however, unbeknownst to them, she has already met with FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). Doug decides he is better equipped to handle the situation. He sets up a "chance encounter" that evolves into an unexpected bond.
As Doug and Claire get to know each other, the viewer learns of Doug's troubled upbringing and attempts are made by the writers to reveal he is really a good guy underneath it all in hopes that his stealing large amounts of taxpayer money, his shooting at law-enforcement officials, and ultimately, his feeling that rules don't apply to him will be overlooked. He comes off as sympathetic, and wants to get out of the life, but his last job is where everything falls apart, for his character and for the story.
[Spoiler alert: skip next three paragraphs to avoid spoilers]
While Doug is staying at a hotel across the street from where the last job will take pace, an unstable character in his life confronts him. Considering how well organized they have been and how close they come to getting caught earlier in the film, it's unbelievable anyone would have given this character any information about the job. Disappointing in its predictably, this character proves to be their undoing.
A major problem with the story is its portrayal of women. From Doug's mom, who left him at an early age, to James' sister Krista (Blake Lively), who claims to have mothered Doug's daughter though he denies it, to even Claire, they all come off as very weak individuals easily manipulated by men. Claire is the worst, becoming complicit in Doug's crimes, even after she discovers Doug lied to her, but she fell for the guy.
Although Doug is punished metaphorically, he gets off way too easy in comparison to his cohorts. What's insulting is he, and the writers, try to make amends with the audience by buying his redemption. It's a hollow, feel-good moment that I hope people don't accept because it means they too will have been bought off like Claire and become accomplices to Doug's crimes.
As he proved on the superior Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck is a talented director. Every actor, including himself, delivers great performances. Even the small parts, like Chris Cooper as Doug's dad and Peter Postlethwaite as local crime boss Fergie, are deserving of recognition for their work. The action scenes are well choreographed and presented clearly on screen. While the script by Peter Craig and Affleck & Aaron Stockard is flawed, there are many good moments of humor and drama between the characters.
The Town does so many things right that it makes the film's flaws more glaring. However, I liked more about it than I disliked, so I offer a mild recommendation for it.
Article first published as Movie Review: The Town (2010) at TIFF 2010 on Blogcritics.