The question on everyone's mind is whether Ben Affleck makes a better actor or a director? The Town is his second directorial effort after his excellent Gone Baby Gone, and in this one he also puts himself in front of the camera leading an ensemble cast which includes the likes of Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite. Quite the power-packed cast in a riveting drama about a gang of robbers with three superbly shot action sequences that are as violent as they are vividly real.
I'm tied with this one, because Ben Affleck shows he's just as good as he is behind the camera as he is in front, delivery what I felt was one of his best performances undoubtedly lifted by playing off the wealth of talent at his disposal, that he had to up his game, and came through rather successfully. There's only a handful of contemporary films about bank robbers that stick and become memorable, in my books being Katherine Bigelow's Point Break and Michael Mann's Heat, and joining that small list will be The Town, with its high drama and high octane action sequences, both aspects not overshadowing each other, but complementing the entire narrative experience.
The titular town referred to is Charlestown, Boston, reputed to be armed robbery capital of the world, where this tale zooms in on the quartet of robbers James Coughlin (Renner), Albert Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke), led by de-facto general Doug MacRay (Affleck) who take their orders, direction and opportunities from another local gangster Fergus Colm (Postlethwaite) who fronts his shady background with a legitimate florist business. The film opens with a daring bank robbery where the team take Claire (Hall) the assistant manager hostage, only for Doug to unexpectedly fall in love with her and vice versa in time to come with what would be a twisted variation of the Stockholm Syndrome.
Based upon the book Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town has plenty of rich subplots such as the unquestionable yet unspoken love between the MacRay father (Chris Cooper) and son and the mystery behind the disappearance of their wife/mother, the camaraderie, brotherhood and loyalty issues between the robbers especially that between James and Doug since the latter has relations with the former's sister (Blake Lively) who demonstrates the extent of a woman scorned, and the biggest story here will be the love story between Doug and Claire, which propels much of the narrative since it plants a thought with Doug to deem it time to quit a life of crime.
I suppose a budding love life that potentially promises a lot more hope than one Doug is currently in, will make him think twice if it's time to go back on the path of righteousness. But like all gangsters, going down that right path always prove to be difficult, as the beneficiaries of his and his gang's exploits will want anything but their cash cow to stop producing milk. Threats get set up and we're left riveted in witnessing just how the largest scale heist the team had ever executed get underway. It's one thing wanting out, but another in being sucked right back in because of circumstances.
While I couldn't care too much about the romance between Doug and Claire which is hinged on dishonesty and secrets, it is the action sequences that made this film stand out. Unlike Takers which had over the top action and an infighting central to its theme, The Town boasts more violently realistic battle sequences between cops and robbers, and although only a handful of them, each are just as memorable and builds up in tension and adrenaline from the last, each with a little bit of throwback to Heat because of its gunfights down busy streets where countless of rounds from automatic weapons get randomly sprayed around, with really ugly outcomes. It doesn't glamourize violence, but shows it as is.
And Jeremy Renner once again stands out in the film as the highly volatile gangster who dishes out punishment without remorse, and his performance here is excellent par none. Besides Affleck's competent direction in pulling this film off, Renner is the live wire here that sets the film ticking, and I will for one be keen to follow what he does as a follow up to this, as with what Ben Affleck will be directing next. One of the best crime thrillers seen this year, so do yourself a favour not to miss this in cinemas right now.