The Irish mob has dwindled into insignificance, and gangster bars are now yuppie hangouts, but some in the north Boston suburb of Charlestown still cling to the family business—armed robbery. At least that’s what Hollywood claims in the new crime thriller, The Town, directed by and starring Ben Affleck.
With sun-drenched aerial footage showing Catholic churches rising above colonial structures and spectacular car chases through labyrinthine streets, Charlestown becomes the most influential character in the film.
Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is a “townie,” born in Charlestown, son of a legendary bank robber (Chris Cooper), who is near completion of a 40-year sentence for refusing to rat out his pals. Noble adherence to the criminal code of silence perhaps, but Dad left his only child with a ton of emotional baggage, especially after the sudden disappearance of his mother when he was only six. The child was raised by a local family, which now includes James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), just released from nine hellish years behind bars, and his sister Krista Coughlin (Blake Lively), drug addict/dealer and single Mom who dreams Doug will finally return her love for him.
Doug and James are half of the new headline-grabbing gang that is driving law enforcement berserk. The other half is driver “Gloansy” Magloan (Slaine), and security tech Desmond Elden (Owen Burke). Alas, The Town doesn’t give much screen time to the secondary leads, which is a shame because it’s hard to root for a team if you don’t know all the members. We cheer primarily for Doug. He is after all, the best-looking of the bunch and the one most conflicted about how he makes his living. The scenes between Doug and his trigger-happy pal James painfully foreshadow the inevitable polar-opposite trajectories of their lives.
The string puller of Charlestown crime is a monster named Fergus Colm (Pete Postelthwaite), who’s been master-minding the robberies and laundering the hauls for decades. With his nasty pal, Rusty (Dennis McLaughlin), he runs a florist shop as a front, where he trims the thorns off rose stems as if he were decapitating young robbers who dare to defy him.
With meticulous planning, precision timing and outrageous disguises, the crew has perfected its routine without causing injury to anyone. But in the bank robbery that opens the film, things go wrong. James viciously beats the bank manager with the butt of his AK-47. The curse of violence has begun.
Also, for the first time, they take a hostage, the terrified assistant manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). They release her unharmed, but she’s haunted by what happened. When James learns that Claire lives only a few blocks from the dilapidated skating rink where the foursome meets, he wants her eliminated so she can’t identify them.
Doug, however, doesn’t want her killed. He promises the gang he will prove Claire can’t harm them. With lies and charm, he pursues her to find out what she remembers. Soon he comes to love her.
Meanwhile robberies continue, violence escalates, car chases turn combustible, and morality gets more compromised as the disguises get creepier. The FBI agent obsessed with bringing down the gang (John Hamm) gets closer.
The Town is a good, solid drama, ably mixing high octane action with a diverse cast of characters. It’s a worthy successor to Affleck’s notable directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone—both films shot in Boston and based on novels by Boston area writers. A thoughtful piece of work, it’s clearly aimed at adults, who have already learned that the tiniest detail can cause life to spin out of control—a Celtic tattoo on the back of a robber’s neck, a heart-shaped diamond pendant, the whisper of a childhood secret.