So many crime dramas have been set in the great city of Boston that it's practically its own genre – the Boston crime drama. To that end, The Town may not be anything innovative, brilliant, or the likes of which hasn't been seen before. But that being said, it is a rock solid movie, one with which it's hard to find much fault.
Our antihero is Doug McRay (Ben Affleck), the leader of a unit of professional bank robbers. Doug is calm and precise, a real master of his craft, but his dedication to his criminal career disintegrates as he becomes romantically involved with a woman, Claire (Rebecca Hall), who was a teller at the last bank he hit up (unbeknownst to her, of course). Strong use of dramatic irony abounds as Doug walks the tightrope between what his heart wants and what his head knows he can't have. And he really can't have it, because there are those who are shocked and chagrined to discover his little secret. For instance, his closest friend and cohort in crime, James (an outstanding Jeremy Renner), whose violent temper has a short enough fuse as it is without learning that Doug is ready to quit the game. Or a calculating FBI agent (Mad Men's Jon Hamm) who uses Claire to try and nab his target. Or Doug's employer (Pete Postlethwaite), a Charlestown crime lord who would stoop to any depth to keep his talented thief from skipping town. As the noose tightens around Doug's neck, he realizes how he's put Claire at risk too. Can they both make a clean getaway?
Affleck not only starred in, but co-wrote and directed The Town, his directorial follow up to Gone Baby Gone. His direction is nothing extraordinary, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's sturdy and tightly executed. His film has no gimmicks, bells, or whistles. He just oversees everything with a welcome straightforwardness and a few well-judged sprinklings of humour to ease some of the palpable tension. He builds the action quite well too, capably handling a deafening climactic shoot out and a terrific chase through the claustrophobic one-way streets of Boston's North End (exceptional stunt driving in that sequence). Perhaps his most noticeable directorial flourish is constituted by the pitch-perfect performances he got out of his cast, one of the year's best. Renner is the closest thing to a standout, but everyone else (including Affleck) hit nary a false note. Even Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper are memorable with very little screen time.
Critics have been surprisingly receptive of The Town, and so far audiences have voiced their support, prompting folks in some corners of the web to propose it has a shot at a Best Picture nomination. I'm a little more jaded. It's not an Oscar movie, after all. But I won't count it out. Perhaps it can squeak into that 10th slot if the money continues to rise? The Academy could do a lot worse than to acknowledge such an expertly crafted piece of entertainment, but I still don't think this'll come away with anything. Maybe a tip of the hat from Sound branch (the mix was quite involving).
*** out of ****