Crime dramas are nothing new in Hollywood. We see them year after year, mostly from some unproven director trying to be Martin Scorsese. In “The Town,” Ben Affleck manages to distinguish himself from this crowd. While he’s still no Scorsese, his second directorial feature is entertaining and effective because his message is clear from the beginning, and he executes it with precision and bravura.
With an impressive ensemble armed with Bostonian accents, the saga of family and criminality adapted from Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves” lights up the screen. The movie opens with a bank robbery so marvelously orchestrated it could be symphonic that sets up the movie’s two storylines: the hunters and the hunted.
Don Draper – pardon me, Jon Hamm – leads the FBI’s investigation into the robbery. Looking to make an example out of the expert criminals, they specifically focus on Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the manager taken hostage and subsequently released by the group on their exit.
Evading capture, Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the leader of a band of Charlestown robbers-for-hire forever at the mercy of Fergie the florist (Pete Postlethwaite), the neighborhood’s kingpin of crime. He and his brother Jem (Jeremy Renner) have known nothing other than this life, unable to escape the legacy of their now-imprisoned father (Chris Cooper). Doug is looking for the much sought-after “last job,” the one heist that can successfully put at end to his criminal career.
While he does manage to find such a job, he ultimately finds something more profound: romance with the most unlikely of people – Claire Keesey. She offers him something that no other girl (especially not the mother of his child, played by the unfortunately cast Blake Lively) has been able to give him: the idea that he could escape from his past and be a new man. In a neighborhood that breeds criminals like rabbits and a patrimony deeply rooted in such ideals, this idea intrigues Doug, and it ultimately becomes the question of the movie. Is it possible to rise above your past and your surroundings?
Over the course of two well written hours, “The Town” explores and analyzes this question all the while providing fantastic drama and thrilling chases, robberies, and shoot-outs. It has Affleck written all over it, and not just because of the location. He makes Charlestown a character in itself, and we get to know it just as well as any of the people populating the set. Very few directors have the dexterity to capture a city in all of its glory and sordidness, and it’s a credit to Affleck’s prowess that he can make it feel so authentic. He also gets the best out of an extraordinary cast, and everything working together towards Affleck’s vision provides one dynamite moviewatching experience. A- /