In 2010 it was approaching a decade since Ben Affleck had been associated with a good movie, or played a good role period (Jersey Girl not withstanding. I might also accept Clerks 2… but probably not). He came on the scene like a firecracker with great ones like Good Will Hunting, Armageddon and Pearl Harbor. He then decided to follow those up with Daredevil and Gigli. *smh* I like Affleck as an actor and in the right role. I don’t think his range is too wide. He’ll never be a great action or comedy guy but he’s been real solid in most of the drama’s he’s done. Hopefully 2010’s The Town is a step back in that right direction. Alongside Affleck in this film is Hawkeye…errr… Jeremy Renner, who seems to be in about the same place in his career right now as Affleck was a decade ago. Maybe he has some better arrows in his quiver.
The Town, rated R mostly for language and violence, is set in Charlestown, MA, a suburb of Boston which, we are told, has produced more bank robbers than any other town in American history. This would not be a very encouraging place to grow up. Most scenes we’re shown of neighborhoods in Charlestown would probably be classified as low-income. The subtle impression is given throughout the movie that if you’re raised here you either become a thief or you’re poor. More on that false dilemma later. Ben Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the mastermind among a group of bank robbers who meticulously plans every detail of every robbery down to the second. James Coughlin (played by Renner) is the hard-hearted, loose cannon of the group who might just as soon shoot you as shake your hand. Renner hits the nail on the head in this role as the detached and cold tough guy, so it’s no surprise to find him as the lead two years later in Bourne Legacy. We learn later in the movie that these two have quite the history together, one that has molded their current relationship to be a congenial yet sometimes uncomfortable one. Rebecca Hall (playing the female lead Claire Keesy) and Jon Hamm (playing FBI agent Adam Frawley) round out the main cast in this heist drama that is smart and thought-provoking.
The action gets going with your run-of-the-mill four guys in skeleton masks carrying automatic rifles, knocking over an ill-prepared bank. They’ve done it plenty of times, they’re cool, calm and extremely precise. Claire, a clerk at the bank, is called on to open the safe at just the right moment. It is this moment where the audience first gets the hint that something is different about this heist. Doug takes it upon himself to calm Claire down and focus on the safe combination, even going so far as to touch her hand and speak gently to her. A clear connection is made. The irony here is that he is able to be so calm, so controlled and detailed, while also displaying such aggression and threatening the lives of everyone in the building. If only I could be this confident and comfortable with trivial things in my life as he is robbing a bank! The silent alarm is activated and the bank manager takes an unwarranted beating for it. Claire is taken hostage for a short time and left alone on a beach.
Taking a hostage was not part of the plan, it was not on the checklist that Doug laid out for the bandits. Now they have to cover themselves. What is she telling the FBI, what did she see, could she identify them? Doug follows Claire, they meet, go out for coffee and some dates, fall in love and live happily ever after. Yeah right. He does follow her and they do start dating. Pretty predictable to this point. Claire opens up to him more and more about the robbery and things in her life, and Doug opens up to her about his family and growing up in Charlestown. It’s no surprise that Doug comes from a broken home and has daddy issues. A key ingredient to a productive and successful life is the presence and positive influence of both parents growing up. At one point in the film Doug confronts his father, while in prison, about the death of his mother when he was six. He’s met with a very heartless and blunt reaction. You can almost see the void that trauma left in him opening up and wanting to be filled, only to be denied and brushed aside. As the relationship between Doug and Claire blossoms, Doug begins to feel some loyalty, a sense of protection toward Claire in ways he hasn’t felt toward the usual girls at the bar, and which he reserves for a very small handful of people. You can sense an inner struggle present within Doug growing throughout the movie. When he allows himself to feel something for this girl he begins to see an alternative to the life he’s come to know. In letting himself love her he starts to want something better than the life he’s chosen
This deserves some unpacking. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” He was of course rephrasing what Jesus called the greatest commandment (Mk. 12:31). This transformative effect that love has on others is exactly what we find being described in God’s love for us in giving His Son, Jesus (1 Jn. 4:9). Knowing the love of God for us through that sacrificial act creates a transformation in us. We often call this repentance. In Doug’s case the presence of love, even the hope of the presence of love, spurred in him a desire to change what he had always accepted as his lot in life. He was ready to change and was trying to take steps toward dying to his old self. (Rom. 6:6)
The ramifications of this decision culminates when Doug confronts James to tell him he’s done with this business, he’s leaving. In my opinion this scene is the moral climax of the movie and both Affleck and Renner deliver it wonderfully. We have a major confession from Doug. He is changing his ways, he’s leaving this life behind. We have a major revelation from James. He has sacrificed a lot for Doug (unbeknownst to him), and feels Doug owes it to him to stay and follow through with the next assignment. James arrogantly tells Doug, “There’s people I can’t let you walk away from”. Throughout the movie Affleck portrays his character as calm and in control, rarely losing his focus or his temper. Here though, Doug let’s James have it. He would choose the direction of his life and nobody could tell him otherwise. This brings us full circle to the false dilemma alluded to at the beginning of the movie.
Doug decides very late in his life, after many consequential choices have been made, to choose a better path. As I touched on earlier, one of the underlying elements in this movie was the accepted reality that if you’re born in Charlestown you were destined to do bad things. Early in the film when Agent Frawley is asked where one of the suspects lives his answer is, “Where do you think?”. Charlestown, where all the other robbers live, duh. In another scene Doug is being interrogated by an agent that apparently grew up with his crew, or at least in their community. Doug calls him a rat for becoming a cop, betraying their trust and using the secrets he knew about them against them. Didn’t he know better than to try to uphold law and order? In Doug and James’ confrontation, James reminds Doug, “You grew up right here! Same rules as I did.” This was the life that Doug and his crew were born into, this was the path established for them. The sad part is that many people today accept ‘no choice’ as the only choice for their lives just as Doug and his crew apparently did. As though the circumstances they are born and raised in determine their path in life. Is where you end up, and who you become, nothing but a product of your circumstances? In other words, if you grew up in Charlestown, would you accept the cards you were dealt along with everyone else? Or would you buck the trends, stand out in the crowd and find some determination in you to be a light in the darkness? (2 Cor. 4:6). I’ve heard it said that your circumstances don’t determine where you can go, they merely determine where you start. That’s not just an inspirational quote you might find on Pinterest, it’s a good life principle.
My Rating: 3.5/5
This movie is an entertaining one, without question. On my first watch I wasn’t too impressed with Rebecca Hall’s performance. It seemed forced and appeared obvious she was acting. I didn’t notice this as much the next couple times through it. There are some supporting roles that left me wanting more. Other than Affleck and Renner’s characters, the other two in their crew don’t get a lot of play. The bigger guy has some good lines and goes out like a champ in the end, but they both go largely unnoticed. There is a puppeteer that controls this group, Fergie the Florist. Played by Pete Postlethwaite, the Florist would’ve been a perfect opportunity for this movie to have a very memorable ‘boss’ character, but alas, he’s just an old skinny guy who is somehow able to boss around all the thieves in town. The sparsely placed narration and the intelligence of this film certainly meet the standard for a good heist flick. It’s not going to be the best one you’ve seen, but I think you’ll enjoy it.
Doug: “People get up everyday tell themselves they’re gonna change their lives. They never do. I’m gonna change mine. Why don’t you do it with me.”
James: “There’s people I can’t let you walk away from.”
Doug: “If anything happens to her, if I think anything might happen to her, I’m coming back here, and I’m gonna kill both of you in your own shop.”
The Florist: “Total call; $3.5 million. Taking down the cathedral of Boston; priceless.”
James: “If we get jammed up, we’re holding court in the street.”
Doug: “No matter how much you change, you still have to pay the price for the things you’ve done. So I got a long road. But I know I’ll see you again, this side or the other.”