Ben Affleck’s second directing effort is a crime drama set in the Boston neighbourhood of Charlestown, following the career of a crew of bank robbers led by Doug MacRay (Affleck). The film opens with a hit on a bank where things don’t go quite to plan and slightly-unhinged James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) grabs female bank worker Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage. They let her go almost immediately, but a few days later Coughlin is concerned that she could lead the police to them and wants to eliminate her. MacRay objects to such an extreme solution and decides instead to follow her to try and determine if she poses a genuine risk.
It’s fairly obvious that MacRay feels guilt for what Claire went through and feels the need to try and help her, which means he doesn’t keep his distance very well and the two meet and strike up a tentative relationship, with MacRay seeing Claire as a way out of the life he wants to get away from. As you would expect, their relationship leads to some tense moments where MacRay’s cover is nearly blown, and his life is further complicated by the police starting to take an interest in him and his crew as they investigate the bank job.
I thoroughly enjoyed Affleck’s first film – Gone Baby Gone – being particularly impressed by the natural style and engaging characters. It has a unique feel, stripping back Hollywood gloss but not going over the top with grittiness in representing the lives and locations of people living in less than ideal conditions. The Town takes a very similar approach and benefits greatly from it. It’s difficult to categorise easily – it’s tempting to say his work has a documentary style because of the sense of realism, but this is doing a disservice to the high quality production, cast and stories he delivers.
If there was one criticism I had with Gone Baby Gone, it was that the behaviour of the characters occasionally went beyond the limits of credibility, or perhaps more correctly – the film didn’t do a good enough job of justifying their actions. The same is also true of The Town to a lesser extent – the characters are mostly excellent but one of them in particular is sometimes a little unbelievable: Claire is overly giddy and flirty with Affleck in a scene where they’re having a drink together – out of place given that they are strangers who met in a laundrette moments earlier. Her trauma from the bank job seems to disappear and reappear to suit the story and on the whole it’s not a very convincing piece of acting. On the other hand, Ben Affleck plays his part well and makes the character likeable despite his chosen career, although the character’s emotional issues caused by the departure of his mother early in his childhood could have been explained more concisely.
Apart from those minor criticisms, The Town is an excellent film and almost certainly my favourite of 2010. The action scenes aim for realism rather than overblown thrills but still remain tense and exciting. The Boston setting gives the film a unique feel – a welcome departure from the usual crime story locations of New York or Los Angeles. It falls just short of being a classic but is another excellent piece of work from what is turning out to be a surprisingly good director.