I’ll admit it, I’ve never really liked Ben Affleck as an actor. The guy has made some pretty questionable films and I’ve never been terribly impressed with any of his performances. Sure, Good Will Hunting is a phenomenal film but most of that is attributed to the brilliant script, which Affleck wrote.
When Gone Baby Gone came along, Affleck showed the world that not only could he write scripts and act, but he could also direct, and direct well. Now we come to The Town, Affleck’s second stab at directing. Gone Baby Gone was a great film and it was pretty well reviewed. The Town is no different, Affleck shows us he isn’t a one trick pony when it comes to directing and that maybe, he belongs behind the camera and not in front.
The Town is a very strong directorial effort from Affleck, his assured direction mixed with some superb performances from the cast (even Affleck is pretty good here) and some compelling material, makes for one of the year’s best films.
The Town is based on Chuck Hogan’s Hammett Prize-winning novel, Prince of Thieves. Taking place in Charlestown, a neighbourhood in Boston, and a place known as the bank robbery capital of America, The Town tells the story of four lifelong friends, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert “Gloansy” Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond “Dez” Elden (Owen Burke). The foursome have an interesting hobby, they enjoy robbing banks. After one particular job, they take a hostage named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), letting her go shortly after they make their getaway.
Soon after, Jem, volatile and a bit of a loose cannon, realizes that Claire may be the only one who can identify them and give them up to the police, he proposes they kill her. Doug tells him that she didn’t see anything and just in case, he’ll try to find out what she knows. He starts to follow Claire and eventually the two meet face to face. Shortly after, they start to form a relationship, with Claire having no idea who Doug really is.
To make things more complicated, Doug wants out of the game and out of Charlestown. He doesn’t want to be robbing banks anymore. The problem is, his team is planning their biggest heist yet and there’s a fair amount of pressure, from various parties, on Doug to stay for this one last job.
Meanwhile, as Doug is trying to balance his relationship with Claire, and the upcoming heist, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on Doug’s trail, slowly closing in on the gang. He also has his eye on Claire as he isn’t convinced that she’s fully innocent. As Agent Frawley closes in on the gang, and Doug deals with his own issues, as the audience you just know the film is going to deliver an explosive and worthy finale, and that it does.
The story is really the backbone of The Town, it’s what drives the film. It’s incredibly engaging and the film is very well written, filled with sizzling dialogue and tense action sequences throughout. Characters are all fully developed and well acted. Affleck takes his time to fully flesh out the characters to ensure that we as the audience care about them, because without the human drama, the film wouldn’t have worked.
The Town also wouldn’t have worked out as well had it not been for the superb acting. As I said before, I’m not a big fan of Affleck as an actor but I’ll be the first to admit that he’s great in his role here. Mature and confident, Affleck does a fine job as the leading man and is able to efficiently carry the film.
Hall also does great work as she gives Claire a sense of vulnerability and susceptibility that keeps audiences engaged and invested. Renner’s edgy turn as Jem works perfectly as he gives a dynamite performance, exuding ferocity and showing us he wasn’t just a one hit wonder.
Hamm is superb as the no nonsense FBI Agent, leaving behind Don Draper he provides intensity throughout and aces the role of the hard-nosed Agent Frawley. Blake Lively plays Doug’s ex-girlfriend Krista, who is a drug dealer and addict. Despite having a smaller role, Lively puts forth a stellar effort, taking what could have been just another typical junkie role and giving it some humanity. Affleck also calls in the big guns, giving small supporting roles to Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite, both of whom steal all the scenes they’re in, as expected.
The constant cat and mouse game between Frawley and Doug helps create tension the whole way through and Affleck’s confident direction of stylish and well choreographed shootouts, thrilling chases and expertly staged heists keep things moving at a great pace.
Affleck nails everything just right and certain scenes are executed so well that surprisingly, one of the film’s most intense scene turns out to be a quiet lunch outdoors on a sunny afternoon. It’s Hitchcockian in nature and brilliantly filmed. Easily one of my favorite scenes in the film.
If The Town has any flaws, it’s the fact that it is a genre film, meaning we know these character types and this story arc all too well. Various aspects and elements of the film are too clearly defined, taking away from some of the shock and surprise we’re supposed to experience. It’s never a huge problem and it doesn’t take away from the film too much but it is apparent.
Ultimately, The Town is a gritty crime film that Michael Mann would be proud to call his own. It’s electric and thrilling the whole way through and the acting is particularly strong. Instead of repeatedly hitting you over the head with a multitude of big action set pieces, The Town provides a strong story and compelling characters, punctuated with some excellent action. And the mix works perfectly. It finds the perfect balance between providing authentic thrills and action and still staying grounded enough to provide a riveting story and characters we can invest in.
Easily one of the best heist films I’ve seen, The Town is also one of the top films I saw this year. If you haven’t yet seen this gem of a film, I urge you to do so. You won’t be disappointed.
On Blu-Ray, The Town comes to us in an extended cut version. Running roughly 153 minutes, the extended cut is the way to go. I’m not going to outline all the differences because I don’t want to spoil anything but I have seen both the theatrical and extended version and I can tell you that you will notice differences. There is also a great feature you can turn on that will notify you when you’re watching a scene that was not part of the theatrical cut. The extended cut is the better of the two. It never feels too long and I enjoyed it more than the theatrical version.
The only problem with the extended cut is that there is quite a big goof. It has to do with a continuity/editing error and how no one caught it is beyond me. It doesn’t harm the film, it’s just a bit awkward, and actually quite funny. I don’t want to reveal it since it may spoil the plot but if you’re paying attention, you’ll catch it.
In terms of special features. We don’t get a whole lot, but then again The Town isn’t really a film that requires hours of special features so it’s not that disappointing. I was far more disappointed at the lack of features on Inception, since that film easily could have had hours and hours of bonus features.
Nevertheless, what we get here is acceptable. First up are two excellent commentaries. Ok, if you want to get technical it’s just one commentary, allow me to explain. Affleck provides a commentary for both the theatrical and extended version although it’s essentially the same track, just with a couple additions for the extended version. It’s a thoughtful and interesting commentary and I really enjoyed it. It’s definitely one of the better commentary tracks I’ve heard in a while and well worth a listen. We learn a lot about the film and if you’re a fan of the movie, you should check it out.
There is only one more special feature and it’s called Ben’s Boston. It’s similar to the Extraction Mode found on the Inception Blu-Ray. There are six features here that can either be played with the film or on their own. In total, there is about half an hour worth of material here. It’s sufficient but I would have expected a bit better. It covers more or less what you would expect and as I said before, a film of this nature doesn’t require hours and hours of special features. That being said though, there were a few areas that they didn’t touch on that would have been nice to see.
As for the transfer itself, it’s handled very well. For the most part, the video impresses. A couple of soft shots here and there don’t harm the film too much and neither does the minor grain. The picture shows great detail and skin tones look very natural. Texture also looks good and there is some excellent definition. Overall, while not the best picture, it’s still quite strong.
When it comes to audio, dialogue never gets lost in the gunfire and the robbery scenes will bring your speakers to life, displaying tremendous sound. The final shoot out is especially good, and possibly even demo worthy. Every gunshot is felt and the fantastic score really shines here. The track boasts some solid dynamics and in conclusion, it’s a pleasing audio track.
At the end of the day, The Town is an excellent film. This is one of those cases where the film alone is worth the purchase price. Complemented by some strong audio/video and a decent batch of special features, this is really a no brainer. Go out and buy it, enough said.
The Town is an excellent directorial effort from Ben Affleck. We're treated to a compelling story with some great action scenes and strong performances.