By Caitlin Gardner
Maybe Ben Affleck true calling was behind the camera but that is even selling him short in The Town. There is a remarkable discipline Affleck displays directing, playing the lead character, and also having co-writing credits. His character, Doug MacRay, part of a criminal crew in Charlestown wants out of the business of bank robbing after already blowing two chances to get out as a professional hockey player. He promises himself that the next robbery is the last but in Charlestown, a Boston neighborhood notorious for its robberies as a pastime, it seems far-fetched.
It is especially far-fetched when MacRay’s best friend Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is fiery, unpredictable operator with two strikes on his rap sheet and the crew being under the thumb of Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite), a flower shop owner who is an unrelenting crime boss who destroyed Doug’s family years before.
The film begins with what is a usual bank robbery for Doug’s crew. Jem forces the crew to take the bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, much to the chagrin of Doug, leaving her blindfolded on the beach to only find out she lives four blocks away from their Charlestown residence. Jem wants to intimidate the already shaken Claire from spilling them to the feds but Doug, mindful of Jem’s two strikes, takes charge, using his charm to get a date with her to find out what she knows. Doug is not only attracted to her but finds they have more in common than residency, and believes she is his outlet out of Charlestown.
Meanwhile, the FBI team (led by Jon Hamm) is trying to find anything that can lead them to nailing Doug’s crew. It leads to impressively shot car chases and gun fights that is all well and good but some of the best scenes entail just simple dialogue among the cast that often has the audience knowing what is going on before some of the characters that is both tense and gripping. This is smart, good directing on Affleck’s part but he also gives a good acting performance of nuance.
The whole cast is good, even Blake Lively as Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex girlfriend Christine is good in her limited screen time, but who really shines is Jeremy Renner as Jem. While the rest of the cast are very disciplined with an undercurrent of intensity, much like Affleck’s directorial touch, the unpredictability and ferocity of Jem Coughlin harkens back somewhat to Renner’s breakthrough performance in The Hurt Locker. Jem Coughlin is somebody you both want on your side and also somebody you do not want within 100 yards of your operation. Again, credit goes to Affleck’s direction.
The Town is by no means perfect. There are a few loose ends and lack of closure with at least one character and its ending may underwhelm some fans of the crime film genre. But the ending works thanks to the discipline of Affleck in front and behind the camera.