While his body of work as a director is admittedly a small sample size, it’s my belief that Ben Affleck could be to Boston what Martin Scorcese is to New York. While the actor-turned-director was born in California, he was raised a Bostonian, and, like Scorcese, he has an innate knowledge of the city and its denizens that translates into an authenticity that no “outsider” could replicate. With his rookie outing, Gone Baby Gone (based on Dennis Lehane’s fantastic novel), Affleck delivered not only a skillfully crafted crime drama, but a film that, I feel, offered the most accurate depiction of the people of Boston and its surrounding suburbs. With his sophomore effort, The Town, Affleck steps things up, delivering a mesmerizing heist thriller with a slickness that gives Michael Mann’s Heat a run for its money, all-the-while maintaining the same rich folksiness and strength of character that made Gone Baby Gone such an unexpected surprise.
Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a former hockey star who, after several chances, blew his shot at the pros and returned to his native Charlestown to carry on the family tradition of boosting armored cars and robbing banks. When he and his close-knit crew pull of a daring morning heist at a Cambridge bank, Doug’s mercurial best friend, Jimmy (Jeremy Renner) breaks protocol and takes the bank’s manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage. The masked men let her go on their way back home to Charlestown, only to discover that she lives in the neighborhood – a complication that leads Jimmy to decide that she needs to be dealt with. Doug doesn’t think she’s a threat, and offers to feel her out to see what she really knows. He follows her for a day, bumping into her at a local laundry mat, where, after she breaks down in tears, he offers to buy her a drink. It’s here where Claire opens up to Doug about her traumatic experience, the one thing she remembers about the robbers (Jimmy’s Fighting Irish tattoo), and the FBI Agent, S.A. Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who has been keeping tabs on her. The two quickly form a friendship and Doug struggles with not only deceiving Claire, but his friends as well, especially Jimmy, whose behavior has grown increasingly more erratic and aggressive.
The team pull off another major heist, one which they narrowly escape from, and Doug decides it’s time to call it quits. He wants to come clean with Claire, take his money, and leave Charlestown behind, but Jimmy won’t let that happen as there’s still one more job to do – their biggest and most dangerous score yet- and it’s made very clear that Claire’s life depends on it.
The Town is an absolute firecracker of a crime drama, with a fantastic cast, solid screenplay (based on Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves”), and remarkably assured direction by Affleck. Like I said, it’s a small sample size, but, for my money, nobody shoots Boston the way Affleck does, nor have I seen a film directed by anyone with such empathy for the people who inhabit the city. Even when Affleck shows us the city’s seamiest side, it’s still done with the same sense of love and respect Marty affords to his beloved New York. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Affleck turning in a career best performance and Renner building on the deserved buzz he generated with The Hurt Locker. Hamm, meanwhile, is hilarious as the put-upon Agent Frawley, while the stunning Blake Lively is a revelation as Jimmy’s Oxy-addict sister/Doug’s ex, Krista. There’s also a brief-yet-pivotal appearance by Chris Cooper as Doug’s jailbird dad that packs ten movies worth of pathos into ten minutes of talk through a plate glass window.
The Town comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers, offering the film in both theatrical and extended director’s cuts. The 153 minute extended cut fleshes out a few scenes and relationships, but I found the pacing a bit off when compared to the leaner, 124 minute theatrical version. The image quality of both versions of the film is very good, with a nice amount of fine detail, vibrant colors, and a sharp overall image. Blacks are deep and true, and, while there’s some cinematic grain evident in high contrast scenes, it’s nothing distracting. The DTS HD Master Audio track shines, with percussive bass, crisp highs, and consistently audible dialogue no matter what the circumstances. Directional effects, especially during the film’s key action sequences, are very well implemented.
Extras include two commentaries (well, actually one, with some extra commentary added for the extended cut), as well as a collection of short featurettes entitled “Ben’s Boston” (HD), all of which can be viewed whilst watching the film, as well as BD Live functionality and trailers for other Warner releases.
Ben Affleck has really reinvented himself in the years since Daredevil and the Bennifer fiasco. He’s made smart choices as an actor and has emerged as a very talented force behind the camera. With The Town, Affleck proves that Gone Baby Gone wasn’t a fluke or a case of beginner’s luck; he’s the real deal, and, hopefully, in future films, he’ll continue to chronicle the Boston experience.
After all, he’s wicked good at it.