After viewing Ben Affleck’s latest effort, The Town, I logged onto Netflix, curious to see if the taste categorizer (“your preferences show you often watch ‘violent, suspenseful, foreign movies’”) had recognized “Boston Crime Drama” as its own genre. It hasn’t … yet. That day can’t be too far away though, with a plethora of entries like Boondock Saints, The Departed, Monument Ave, and Mystic River edging out the Bronx’ place in film as the last bastion of poor, ethnic, white career criminals. With The Town, Affleck begins what could be a lucrative subgenre, given that in just 2007 he filmed crime thriller Gone Baby Gone in his dear Bean Town as well. For those of you who steer clear of Celtic-American capers, a brief description of The Town plot serves as an ur-tale for every example of “Boston Crime Drama.” White males of Irish origin run around Boston’s most recognizable tourist attractions, usually committing crimes and eluding non-Irish lawmen. They live in projects, hang out in bars, do a little blow, and have tattoos of Fighting Leprechauns. The Town offers this genius twist: robber ringleader Doug MacRay (Affleck) falls for the manager of a bank he holds up. Now, what could go wrong there? That “twist” is so forehead-slappingly obvious it required another trip to Netflix to see if, really, Hollywood hadn’t made this movie before. It hadn’t … until now. The seemingly trite plot, coupled with Affleck the director’s bland opening aerial shots of Boston and Affleck the actor’s initially catatonic strong, silent-type performance didn’t bode well for the rest of the film. But, much like in Gone Baby Gone, Affleck pulls it together, and after the first 30 minutes, The Town becomes a smart, dryly humorous cops-and-robbers flick. Yes, there is way too much Boston. Really. They knock over Fenway Park and the robber gang’s casual attire seems to be pulled directly from a Logan Airport gift shop. But there’s also a discussion of Boston’s less-picturesque side. The city, and particularly MacRay’s stomping grounds of grizzled, yet ever-more-gentrified Charlestown, inspire devout loyalty among MacRay’s tight-knit circle, but is that a good thing? For MacRay and his crew of thugs, they’re in the neighborhood crime network so deep, they can’t escape. And crime isn’t just multi-million dollar bank heists, but slinging oxycotin to young mothers (as played by a stunning Blake Lively) and wanton violence.
After MacRay meets a charitable bank manager (Rebecca Hall) shortly after he’s held up her station, he considers ditching the lifestyle. But he’s indebted to his live-wire pal James Coughlin (another excellent performance by The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner), who not only took in MacRay after his mother disappeared and father went to jail but also murdered another thug who had been gunning for MacRay. Where MacRay pulls back, Coughlin, already a felon, is eager to dive back in to the next deal, but needs his friend’s participation. Meanwhile, both criminals know they’re under the heat of an Untouchable-like FBI man (Jon Hamm) who’s also busy trying to convince MacRay’s sweetly-naïve banker girlfriend to drop the dime on him. In many ways, The Town is just another entry into the “Boston Crime Drama” family, but it’s one that, like Affleck’s Boston itself, is hard to walk out on. •
Dir. Ben Affleck; writ. Ben Affleck, Peter Craig; feat. Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper (R)