The Town Review: Boston Illegal
Set in the economically deprived and crime-ridden Boston neighbourhood of Charlestown which, over the course of several decades, has produced more bank and armoured car robberies than anywhere else in the US, Ben Affleck returns to the screens with this scintillating tale of a professional armed robber who, after falling in love, aspires to a life on the straight and narrow, leaving his impoverished past to vanish in the rear view. However, when criminality and personal loyalties threaten to deny him his last chance to break free, Doug must call on all his courage and ingenuity to outsmart the impending clutches of the FBI and earn the love of the woman he deceived.
As in Gone Baby Gone, what began as a mutual contempt between Charlestown law enforcement and the criminal fraternity who evade them, has rapidly escalated to the brink of civil war, fermented by generations of confrontation, hardship and social inequality. From this a peculiar local tradition has arisen where bank robberies are passed down from father to son like a perverse form of inheritance. Two such benefactors are Doug (Ben Affleck) and Jem (Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker fame) who, due to an incident in their past, are inextricably tied to one another both personally and professionally.
The Town begins with Doug and his accomplices storming a bank, methodically fleecing it of all available cash and systematically destroying the evidence. It’s a perfectly executed operation hampered only by a rash decision to temporarily take Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. When it emerges that she is also a resident of Charlestown, Doug tracks her down to gauge the level of risk she poses. After unexpectedly falling in love, Doug’s desire to leave Charlestown and his past behind him becomes more a case of self-preservation than wistful fantasy. With the FBI closing in and plans for their last robbery beginning to take shape, Doug and his gang will have to make the drastic decisions that’ll determine the course of the rest of their lives.
What The Town lacks in directorial flair and visual ambition, it makes up for in abundance with story and character. Leaving behind the days of Pearl Harbor, Affleck imbues Doug with a believably intense brooding psychology, a recovering alcoholic who would ideally like to be a recovering bank robber. Jeremy Renner is also impressive, carefully balancing a violent sociopath with a man who rigidly adheres to a code of ethics based on a fierce notion of loyalty. Opposite them, John Hamm (the machismo-exuding Don Draper from Mad Men) achieves the rare goal of playing an FBI man against stereotype even if his dialogue is occasionally hackneyed.
If the loose ends of the narrative are tied together that little bit too neatly, it is hard to begrudge a film that is otherwise a powerful and often thrilling cinematic experience which incorporates everything from adrenaline pumping action sequences to an unconventional romance – all without relying on the kind of plot contrivances or laboured twists that commonly dog these types of narrative. Whilst Affleck’s aesthetic sensibility fails to impress his storytelling excels making The Town a more than credible offering from a man whose career has so far been underwhelming.