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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

You can bank on ‘The Town’: Boston heist flick impresses

Published: September 23, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

“The Town” entertains with its fast-paced plotting, smart script and memorable casting. In this Boston-centric thriller Ben Affleck has firmly established his skills as a director, which were hinted at in his 2007 Oscar-nominated “Gone Baby Gone.” He has created a film that gives a fresh burst of life to the typical heist flick.

The film’s title refers to Charlestown, a community in Boston that is burdened by a high crime rate and the notoriety of being the home of many of Boston’s seedier residents. Bank robbers Doug McCray (Affleck) and his friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) head a crew that performs a string of increasingly ambitious heists, culminating in a scheme to break into Fenway Park’s vault.

The robberies executed in “The Town” are fun to watch because the crew and the FBI are evenly matched. There are no bumbling officers or buffoonish thieves; instead, audience members are treated to a tense and exciting viewing experience motivated by the desire to see who will come out ahead. In the film, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) gives McCray’s gang the nickname “the not-screwing-around crew” because they go to such lengths not to get caught. They study the guards of the bank before they rob it, wear Halloween masks, dowse bank patrons’ cell-phones in water, bleach the surface areas they touch and torch their getaway car when they’re done with the vehicle. They’re almost too good. The main break from realism in the film is that the thieves seem to have thought of everything. Yet, in the world that Affleck created, it’s believable and draws the audience in.

While the chase between the FBI agent and the thieves is by itself enough to keep audience members enthralled, the superb cast raises “The Town” to a different league than the common popcorn action movie. Renner, who played the main role in the critically acclaimed “The Hurt Locker” (2008), is almost unrecognizable as a hard-nosed Charlestown resident. Not only is his appearance different (he has gained a few pounds), but he maintains a thick Boston accent. Going beyond these superficial changes, however, Renner fully inhabits his role as a man desperate to keep his friends close to him by any means necessary.

Affleck also does a fantastic job playing a character searching for a way out of the life handed to him. One of the most compelling aspects of the film is the dynamic between Affleck and Renner’s characters. While Coughlin is reckless and often violent, McCray is intelligent and looking for a way out of a life that he didn’t choose.

Almost all of the characters in the film are fascinating to watch. Hamm, known for his role as Don Draper in the AMC television series “Mad Men,” brings an air of self-righteousness to Frawley. The audience gets the sense that Frawley does his job not only because of the thrill of the chase, but because he believes that he is better than the people who live in Charlestown. Blake Lively also contributes an interesting performance as a drugged-up single mother infatuated with McCray. Affleck has succeeded in creating a world for his film, where the characters are realistic, smart and complex.

“The Town” creates a world for the audience through its characters and Boston setting. This is very much a Boston film. Many of the characters wear Boston team jerseys, Bruins jackets and Red Sox gear, they talk with Boston accents and they walk down streets that are recognizably Boston. There are many beautiful shots of the Boston skyline that intersperse the film as well as important scenes that take place in the city. One high-speed car chase is on the streets of the North End and the climactic ending features Fenway Park. This has the effect of grounding the film and providing a basis for its characters.

The only major flaw with the film is a plot-hole that occurs at the end of the film. Ultimately, “The Town” is a smart thrill-ride elevated by its smart casting and world-building.

Lovers of Scorsese films should not miss watching this film in theaters and buying the dvd when it’s released to place by their copy of “The Departed.”