Bad Boys Will Be Violent

Movie Review: The Town (2010)
Spoilers: none


What begins with bullet-point pseudo-facts about a historically high number of bank robberies in the Boston area blooms into a gripping and effulgent drama/thriller on love, family, and crime. Locals have recoiled at the thought of their Irish Catholic community of Charlestown being portrayed in such a negative light, especially when robbery statistics in Massachusetts place the state well behind larger states like Texas or Florida.

My thinking: That's all fine and good for crime analysts and crime trivia junkies, but the rest of us want to be convincingly entertained for two hours or so. The Town fills that bill and then some in an excellent movie about bank robbers and what else gets stolen besides money.

Bank robbery movies are not an untapped vein, but very few of them can come anywhere close to being as selfless as The Town, a film where the focus is always on the drama in the lives of its characters instead of clever hacking tools or knowing “an inside guy” for the manipulation of schedules and shift times of bank security.

It is a delight to find a film that goes in a new direction—in the direction of a high-tension, clock ticking heist not driven by ego or showmanship, or a should-be-repulsive and gratuitous display of star power with a crime boss who pulls strings and rigs juries to get what he wants.

Directed by Ben Affleck, The Town is simultaneously bright and gloomy with Affleck in a role that he maturely and confidently owns. Never does the dialog try to upstage itself by trying to sound virile or heavy. Rife emotions break forth instantly or in time, as the arrangement calls for it in a film where every single solitary performance is relatable to its audience.

Good movies don't feel like a chore to watch. You don't watch them for someone else's sake, but because there is something for everyone, and you feel that from the outset. Swept away in a story that switches between talking would-be lovers and a team of robbers on the verge of disaster, you can feel the woe as surely as you can the pain from wayward childhoods.

If not the heat brought on from the law, it comes from being in cahoots with cruddy criminals in the over-your-shoulder-looking bank robbery business. Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay, the son of a broken-down criminal father, Stephen MacRay (Chris Cooper) serving life in prison for the same crime. Doug is still settling down from the last major bank job that put him in touch with a beautiful bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), who doesn't know that the man she is so fond of is part of a dangerous team that traumatized her and put the lives of her co-workers in jeopardy. He's got to tell her at some point, but what will he do about James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) and the other members of his team who expect him to kill her and continue the life they've known since childhood?

These bad guys make you nervous. You can feel their instability as you ask yourself why they don't see and fear the path they are on, which can only lead to certain oblivion. You'd be afraid of them if you were there, too. And they create contradictions in your head; you hate them for their callous indifference to human life, and yet you root for them to make it away from the police. You hate their parents and families even more for letting them take such a wrong path.

There are choices in good movies. We are drawn to that for no other reason than that life itself is full of choices, and it's nice to be reminded that we aren't the only ones who screw up or else struggle under the weight of decisions and the regrets of bad decisions from long ago.

When a character in a movie struggles between decisions and you find that you both notice and care, something is right. A good crime drama leaves you a little disturbed, perhaps wanting to explain a moral imperative to the bad guys. You want to tell them why crime doesn't pay, but you don't get to. You are left with their choices as they make them, and you feel almost as bad watching them as you might had they been real. Making plenty of bad decisions or else watching those around you make them is the icing on the cake of bitter reality, but somehow, the drama behind the whole mess keeps us going.



Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug use)
Director: Ben Affleck
Summary: A bank robber falls in love with a former hostage taken during a robbery and finds himself falling out of favor with the life he leads as the FBI closes in.
Starring: Ben Affleck "Doug MacRay," Rebecca Hall "Claire Keesey," Jon Hamm "FBI S.A. Adam Frawley," Jeremy Renner "James Coughlin," Blake Lively "Krista Coughlin," Slaine "Albert 'Gloansy' Magloan," Owen Burke "Desmond Elden," Titus Welliver "Dino Ciampa," Pete Postlethwaite "Fergus 'Fergie' Colm," Chris Cooper "Stephen MacRay,"
Genre: Crime / Drama / Thriller / Action