At the opening of The Town, a smartly-conceived graphic grazes the screen, informing the audience that Boston’s Charlestown apparently has the highest population density of bank robbers in the whole country. If this statistic is exaggerated at all, I am still inclined to believe it based on how many ‘Boston crime films’ I’ve seen–good ones, too, like The Departed and Mystic River, and even overrated ones like The Boondock Saints, although Gone Baby Gone (also directed by Affleck) is on my List of Shame.
I love genre films, and I tend to give credit to films that at least attempt to elevate themselves beyond the basic emblems of their genre, but in one this crowded, it takes a lot to stand out these days. At Affleck’s direction, The Town decides to place itself as a heist-drama and potentially ask the question: “Is bank robbery actually a victimless crime?”
To attempt this, the film tries to place itself firmly in reality while exploring the relationship between bank robbing gang leader Doug (Affleck) and bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), who was taken hostage during the film’s opening gambit. She also lives in Charlestown, though she is a “Tuni,” a newcomer to the neighborhood, and Affleck decides to keep tabs on her as a way to make sure he is not fingered in the investigation.
Doug’s time with Claire is contrasted in his relationship with his ‘brother,’ Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) and his ex, Krista Coughlin (Blake Lively). They are both very much Townies, and have paid the price. Jem seems to know nothing beyond crime and violence, and Renner’s performance is almost as explosive as it was in The Hurt Locker. Krista knows drugs, and not much else. Separating Doug and Jem are their ambitions. Doug wants to leave the Town and sees Claire as a way out, while Jem and Krista want him to continue guiding their lives as they stumble from high to high.
This alone would be enough for any film, but we also follow Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), an FBI agent investigating the bank robberies. His storyline closely resembles Al Pacino’s in Heat, but with none of the chemistry and none of the pay off. Oh, and there is Affleck’s obsession with his disappeared mother. And the gang being pressed into heists by the local crime boss (played by an always-chilling Pete Postlethwaite). Having this many complicated storylines really saps the film of a lot of the momentum.
The biggest problem with the film, however, is that it wants to be both a grounded crime drama and an adrenaline fueled heist movie. This may sound plausible, but the over-the-top nature of the heists and plethora of high powered automatic weapons shatter any plausibility this world has. Exacerbating this is the character choices, which combined with aforementioned amazing heists make this movie feel less Mystic River and more Boondock Saints. This is not a bad thing intrinsically, but they are two drastically different tonalities. There is the intense highs of the heist scenes, leave you gasping for breath but are followed by quiet dramatic scenes so characters can make decisions that make little sense in the real world. In particular, the movie grinds to a halt in exploring the relationship between Doug and Claire, which should really be the heart of the movie.
I don’t want to leave you with an overly negative impression, as the highlight of the movie are the heists themselves. They are the best shot and most thought out sequences in the movie, reminiscent of the opening of The Dark Knight. I would watch the whole movie again just to see the heists. Each one escalates the stakes and complexity. I just wish Affleck could have decided which parts of the movie were as important as these and focused on those.