Early on in The Town, we see Ben Affleck in a Boston Bruins jacket. Then we see him in a Red Sox jacket. But no Celtics, no Patriots. What, not a fan? Or is it that hockey and baseball actually do figure in to the plot, and this is Affleck’s idea of foreshadowing?
Rebecca Hall and Ben Affleck star in the caper flick The Town.
Certainly he wants you to know that blue-collar Boston is his milieu. The Town, which Affleck adapted with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, is Affleck’s second writer-director effort, after 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, and a conscious return to the home-field advantage of his native land. This time it’s Charlestown, that peninsular northern Boston nook so solemnly remembered for its strategic importance in the Revolutionary War—and, more recently, for having produced more robbers of banks and armored cars than any other place in America.
Armed robbery is a family trade in Charlestown, an opening title tells us, passed down from one generation to the next. Clearly Affleck’s Doug MacRay learned the trade from his dad, who’s now in prison, and in the flinty form of Chris Cooper. Less clear is how Doug also learned to be so sensitive. Yes, he leads a gang of heavily armed criminals, but only reluctantly. Yes, he’ll thwart and spar with a looming FBI agent (Jon Hamm), but only while allowing that Feds are people too, who at the end of the day, like anybody else, just “wanna go home and nuke their suppah.” And yes, he’ll keep an eye on that comely young bank manager (Rebecca Hall) whom his team briefly kidnapped during its latest heist, but only to then trade family sob stories and fall in love with her.
Some people just don’t understand, including Doug’s druggie ex (Blake Lively), his loose-canon confederate (Jeremy Renner), one highly unpleasant local florist (Pete Postlethwaite) and, occasionally, the audience. Yet when Doug finally announces, “I’m puttin’ this whole fuckin’ town in my reah-view,” we do get the general idea. It’s a Ben Affleck movie. Set in Boston.
And while The Town lacks the magnitude it wants, it doesn’t lack the courtesy to entertain. It’s a little like The Departed without Martin Scorsese’s heavy menace; and a little like Heat and Public Enemies, although without Michael Mann’s preening style; and a lot like half a dozen forgotten noirs from 50 years ago, although with contemporary touches like Blackberries and forensic evidence.
This isn’t just a heist movie, Affleck wants you to know, but a character piece, with authentic regional atmosphere. To wit the Good Will Hunting-esque backstory blurts and superfluous helicopter shots of the Bunker Hill Monument. The latter, at least, speaks to Affleck’s true top priority: to create an elegant and lasting symbol of male virility. So what if he’s in his comfort zone, as long as he’s striving?