Few career resurrections/resuscitations have been so pronounced as Ben Affleck’s. From Gigli and Surviving Christmas, there was a sense that Affleck was going to live in the shadow of his previous successes and showcase the career path that Matt Damon managed to avoid. But his turn to directing has enlivened his career, leading to better roles (or at least more intelligently chosen ones) and a great respect for his behind-the-scenes talents. In The Town, Affleck stars as a bank robber looking to get out, but is sucked into one last score. Though The Town isn’t quite as good as Gone Baby Gone, it shows that Affleck can handle action and suspense fairly well even while starring in the film, and it no surprise it managed to be a success upon release. Co-starring Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively and Jeremy Renner, my review of The Town on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Affleck plays Doug McRay, a Boston bank robber living in Charlestown, which – as the opening prologue tells us – “has produced more bank robbers and armored car thieves than anywhere in the world.” The film opens with him and his crew taking down a bank. When things get dicey they take bank teller Claire Keesey (Hall) hostage, but then let her go. She’s later picked up by the FBI, headed by Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm).
When the heat appears to be on, the gang – or at least James “Gem” Coughlin (Renner) – think it might be a good idea to kill Claire. Since they took her driver’s license, Doug decides to follow her, and inject himself into her life. The two begin dating, but he doesn’t tell her how he got to know her first. The crew runs a bad heist that leads to a shoot-out and a hasty exit. But the local gang boss “Fergie” Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) tells Doug he better do the next heist he has lined up for them, which is going to be a big score. Doug – partly because of his change of heart due to dating Claire – wants out, but he’s told by both Fergie and Gem that he can’t get out. Gem has fantasies of them stealing forever, and perhaps forming some sort of family with Gem’s sister Krista (Lively), who Doug used to sleep with. But Krista is a hot mess; she runs drugs, does Oxy, and has a young child. The cops are also on to his gang, and Frawley takes delight in telling Claire that it was Doug and his crew who kidnapped her.
The Blu-ray edition comes with the theatrical cut and an extended version. My advice is to avoid the latter. It’s bloated, and though there are a handful of nice additions, it ends up ruining the pace of the material. In the theatrical cut, the film works much better and it builds in a much more pleasing way. Affleck here seems influenced by Heat (in the extended cut his character can be seen watching said film), and the sequences of gunplay have the same sort of brutal efficiency but without Mann’s high-gloss polish. It’s much rougher and it reflects the characters. Another big influence seems to be Good Will Hunting, as the main character is the exact opposite of the one in that film. There everyone encourages the main character to break out of Boston; here everyone tries to box Doug in – from the cops to his friends.
Devin Faraci made a good point that is a female friendly criminal movie, as the heart of the film is the romance between Affleck and Hall’s characters: he changes for her to become a better person. That may make the ending more palatable (not necessarily a misstep, but endings with these films are difficult as there are only three options), which doesn’t have the fatal punch-line of so many movies about criminals. But Affleck’s work here both in front and behind the camera is excellent, and the supporting cast – from the Boston locals (like Slaine and Owen Burke) to the ringers (Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper) – is excellent. The film lacks the moral conundrums of Gone Baby Gone, or its insightful portrait of the American class system, but as a genre exercise, it shows that Affleck has the prowess to tackle something bigger. I’m very excited to see what he does next.
Warner Brother’s Blu-ray includes the film in widescreen and in DTS 5.1 HD, along with a digital and DVD copy of the theatrical cut. Both versions look perfect. The theatrical cut runs 125 minutes, the extended cut runs 150. Both feature commentary by Ben Affleck, but they appear to be mostly the same track, with the theatrical cut featuring slightly different notes. The theatrical cut can be watched with Focus Points, called “Ben’s Boston” (30 min.), which are five pieces on the making of the film, with comments from the cast and crew, and the specialists who were brought in to give the film its authenticity. I liked the commentary track, and Affleck is very smart about his own movies, while the Focus Points are mostly made up of on-set interviews, but the talk in them is on point. Had I not watched the extended cut first I might recommend this disc higher, but the theatrical cut is still a solid piece of work.