Invoking 2006’s The Departed as part of The Town’s promotional campaign was, at best, a dicey proposition for this Ben Affleck directed pic. The Departed won four academy awards, including best picture, best adapted screenplay and best-director. Why put that kind of pressure on your movie?
Does The Town live up to that legacy? Yes and no. Viewers expecting the explosive, nail-biting thrill ride that characterized The Departed might be disappointed. Frankly though, I can’t see how anyone who loves movies—well written, emotionally involving, explosively acted, tightly directed movies—could be disappointed by The Town.
The Town is no Departed, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, The Town reminded me more of director Michael Mann’s excellent 1995 heist opus Heat than The Departed did. That’s especially true in The Town’s portrayal of the antagonistic, cat-and-mouse relationship between career criminal Dougy MacRay (Affleck) and obsessed FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who has made catching Doug’s gang his sole reason to exist.
For Dougy’s part, he wants out of “the life,” and to escape the Boston neighborhood where he grew up—Charlestown—a small community that breeds bank robbers. The Town opens with Dougy and his gang’s latest job. When things go bad, Doug’s right-hand-man, Jim (Jeremy Renner), takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. The gang ultimately releases her, but Claire lives in Charlestown to.
Jim’s convinced Claire’s working with the FBI and wants to silence her—permanently. Doug won’t allow it, and instead pays Claire a visit, presenting himself as a random Joe. In an attempt to ascertain what she knows, he insinuates himself into her life and the two begin dating. Nature takes its course and the couple falls in love, giving Doug further motivation to retire.
Neither Jim—to whom Dougy owes his freedom—nor neighborhood crime lord Fergie ‘The Florist’ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) will let Dougy go so easily. Fergie is especially persuasive at thwarting Dougy’s plans, luring him into one final job with the promise of a huge payday and a none-too-subtle threat against Claire.
Fergie also reveals an explosive secret regarding Dougy’s mother—who Dougy believes abandoned him as a child—that even Dougy’s criminal father (Chris Cooper) could never admit. That secret guarantees a showdown between Dougy and Fergie.
The final, daring heist by Dougy’s gang—pulled at Fenway Park—goes both as expected and not as expected. Again, viewers expecting a Departed style, Shakespearean-like tragic ending, might be disappointed, but there’s certainly no shortage of suspense, gunplay and carnage; not everyone escapes unscathed either. And just wait until Claire finds out who she’s fallen in love with.
To be sure, The Town’s gritty Boston locale certainly recalls The Departed, as does its attention to character development (another way in which it recalls Heat, too). While both films are crime dramas, the similarities end there. The Town is its own, unique storytelling triumph, with zero need to sell itself using gimmicky comparisons. That fact will become especially clear when Oscar nominations are announced. This one is one of 2010’s true must-see titles.
The Town is perfectly paced, emotionally involving and very well acted, making it one of the year's best films.