Technically, The Town isn’t bad: although it’s predictable and stylistically bland, it’s still entertaining enough. But I think it lacks a moral centre, and I was mildly irritated throughout the film, waiting for the “hero” to display some sense of remorse, some sign of inner turmoil about his lawless profession, some justification for doing what he does.
In Gun Crazy (1950), the protagonist—lured into a life of crime by his amour fou for a woman—says “Two people dead. Just so we can live without working.” The Town's Doug (Affleck) has no such revelatory moment (nor does he have a similar excuse for his lifestyle choice). When he decides to quit being a bank robber and leave town, it's because he's fallen in love with Claire, not because he’s ashamed of what he’s done in the past. And though he’s supposedly coerced into participating in one last heist by the threats of mastermind Colm—who admits he made Doug’s mother a drug addict and drove her to suicide, because Doug’s father wouldn’t follow his orders—the viewer might wonder why Doug first carries out the assault on Fenway Park and then returns to get his revenge on Colm. If Doug had skipped the robbery entirely and jumped right to the villain-killing, a lot of his friends (and presumably, various innocent people) would have been spared grievous bodily harm.
Far be it from me to insist all movie “heroes” (actually, protagonist is probably a more accurate term) be morally upright or, conversely, pay for their crimes at the last moment (preferably after repenting). I can enjoy a film like Scarface (either version) or Taxi Driver as well as the next guy (maybe more), anti-heroes are fine with me. However, when a film deliberately presents us with a handsome, charming, intelligent fellow who is an unrepentant criminal (and not one of those likeable swindlers or con men, nosiree, but someone who commits armed robberies) and remains unrepentant and we don’t even get a pat, pop-psychology explanation for this (yeah, he’s from a broken home, raised in the “projects,” sure, that explains and excuses it… *mimes playing the world’s tiniest violin*), I get cognitive dissonance all up and down my moral spine.
Eh, what do I know? I’m not a “townie” and maybe armed robbery (oh, and drug dealing, Doug and his boys are involved with that too, at least indirectly) is an honourable profession in Boston? Still, I’d had have liked some sign Doug wanted a better life, was trying to make something of himself, was only robbing armoured cars and banks to earn money for his little sister’s heart operation, or…something. Nope. No apologies, no angst for our boy. No punishment either, unless you count living alone in Florida as punishment.
Furthermore, his moral ambiguity apparently rubs off on his strait-laced girlfriend Claire, who—upon receiving a sackful of stolen money—chooses to donate it to create a rec centre in the ‘hood, rather than…oh, return it to the people it was stolen from?
The plot? Doug, his best pal James, and some anonymous guys rob banks and armoured cars; bank manager Claire is taken hostage in one job, released physically unharmed but emotionally shaken. When they learn she lives in their neighborhood, the gang fears she’ll accidentally recognise them one day. Doug meets her and they fall in love; the FBI tells her Doug is a suspect in the robbery, drama ensues, but they reconcile when he swears “never to lie to you again.” They plan to leave town together but Doug has to pull one last job (as noted above), the job goes bad, and…bob’s your uncle.
I must credit The Town for resisting the temptation to make the FBI agent investigating the robberies into the heavy, a la Public Enemies or countless other films with lawbreakers as protagonists. Of course, Agent Frawley is outwitted at the climax, with only a sardonic note on his windshield to remember Doug by, but at least he’s not depicted as brutal, ruthless, or buffoonish.
The performances in The Town are fine, if by-the-numbers (the script can be blamed for some of this). The primary characters are Doug, James, Claire, and Agent Frawley, although Pete Postlethwaite as Fergus Colm makes a sinister villain in his limited footage, and everyone else is more or less satisfactory. I have to disagree with those who laud Blake Lively’s performance as Krista, Doug’s former girlfriend; she mostly overacts as the drunken, drug-addled single mother carrying the torch for Doug. Perhaps she’s given extra credit because people are comparing this to her previous performances? Plus, this is a “serious” role, ooh, she’s pretending to be a drunk and she’s jealous of Claire and she has a little daughter too, dust off the mantle, an Oscar will soon be sitting there.
Ben Affleck is a decent director, though he overdoes the closeups a bit; otherwise, he doesn’t call attention to himself with fancy camera angles or tricks, the action scenes are good enough, and the actors don’t embarass themselves. Affleck only has himself (and a couple of other guys) to blame for the derivative script, though. Too much is familiar here, both general and specific. For example, the Fenway Park robbery reminded me of Kubrick’s racetrack robbery in The Killing (1956), but…not as good. More generally, none of the drama or interpersonal relationships held any surprises for me: indeed, I doubt if anyone was fascinated by Doug and Claire’s romance, or Krista’s jealous betrayal, or James’s manic behaviour. We’ve seen it all a million times.
But I will confess The Town kept me fairly interested and involved. The characters may have been cast from familiar molds, but the performances and the script (as opposed to the overall plot) were good enough to carry the film. Aside from my own particular qualms about having an attractive but amoral protagonist, The Town is a solid if unspectacular effort.