There are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year. And a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston, called Charlestown, has produced more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere in the U.S.
One of them is Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), but he is not cut from the same cloth as his fellow thieves. Unlike them, Doug had a chance at success, a chance to escape following in his father's criminal footsteps. Instead he became the leader of a crew of ruthless bank robbers, who pride themselves on taking what they want and getting out clean. The only family Doug has are his partners in crime, especially Jem (Jeremy Renner), who, despite his dangerous, hair-trigger temper, is the closest thing Doug ever had to a brother.
However, everything changed on the gang's last job when Jem briefly took a hostage: bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). When they discover she lives in Charlestown, Jem gets nervous and wants to check out what she might have seen. Knowing what Jem is capable of, Doug takes charge. He seeks out Claire, who has no idea that their encounter is not by chance or that this charming stranger is one of the men who terrorized her only days before.
As his relationship with Claire deepens into a passionate romance, Doug wants out of this life and the town. But with the Feds, led by Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), closing in and Jem questioning his loyalty, Doug realizes that getting out will not be easy and, worse, may put Claire in the line of fire. Any choices he once had have boiled down to one: betray his friends or lose the woman he loves.
Ben Affleck's sophomore directorial effort 'The Town' seemed to be a movie that people instantly dubbed "amazing." But I'm not sure why exactly. The film, an adaption of pulp writer Chuck Hogan's crime thriller 'Prince of Thieves' by Affleck and co-writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, centers around Charlestown, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that also stands as the bank robbing capitol of the world (this is true). That's pretty impressive for a town about the size of a postage stamp.
There are certainly things that are impressive about 'The Town.' It's not exactly cutting edge, either in terms of content or delivery, but like Charlestown itself, it has a kind of workmanlike charm. It centers around a band of ne'er-do-well thieves, led by Affleck and recent Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner. The film opens with a breathless bank heist sequence, in which the thugs wear skull masks, beat a bank manager (played by the great Victor Garber) and take another manager (Rebecca Hall, adorable) hostage before ultimately letting her go.
Affleck, who is a former very bad man who has tried to reform (somewhat), is tasked with "taking care of" the onetime hostage who may be able to help the FBI solve the case. Ben's methods may not be what his buddies had in mind. Of course, Affleck and his cronies are still committing crimes while a dogged FBI Agent (played by Jon Hamm) is in hot pursuit and rapidly closing in on them.
The movie has a certain amount of genre movie bravado; this is undeniable. In particular, the action/suspense set piece crackle with electricity. There's real danger here, real edge. The sequences have the kind of sharpness that Michael Mann, who is given a shout-out in the film, used to specialize in (before he gave up on trivial concerns like spatial geography and being able to see stuff). The problem is that these exciting sequences are so exciting (and there are so damn many of them) that they're virtually all you remember when you're done with the movie, which shouldn't be the case.
You should care more about the romance between the tough guy and the bank manager; but you don't. And it's not just because the robbing of an armored car is more exciting and better executed – it's mainly due to the fact that you never quite buy the relationship between the two characters. For one, Affleck, for all of his atonement, still seems like he's a rough character (especially in the "extended version" included on this disc) and she is, well, not. She's cute and articulate and totally falls for this thug, so quickly, that it's beyond unreasonable. The other thing is that when the two finally do get together, in a physical way, Affleck treats her like she's a rescued kitten. This is a bad dude. He would have been a little more violent. It's a character thing.
And that's where 'The Town' really falls flat – the character front. You barely know anything about the characters. You know that Renner has been in jail for a while, that Affleck has a troubled past (Chris Cooper shows up briefly as his imprisoned father), and that Hall is a very good girl. But beyond that, almost everyone is a cipher. You have no clue why Hamm has such a hard-on for this particular band of villains, besides the fact that it's his job (and no, "it's his job" doesn't count as "convincing motivation").
And I thought that there being an "extended cut" on this disc might address these problems and/or alleviate my heartache (because I really do think that Affleck is a talented dude, his debut feature 'Gone Baby Gone' is totally dynamite), but it really didn't. It's the same movie, slightly expanded, but just as messy. There are some nice flourishes included in the longer cut, which runs almost an additional half-hour, like an extended piece that shows the way that the boys launder their money after the initial heist (hint: drugs and women). There's also a killer little scene right before the final heist that is too good to give away here.
'The Town' remains a sturdy heist thriller, full of wonderful actors and amazing suspense set pieces (filmed, gorgeously, it should be noted, by 'There Will Be Blood' cinematographer Robert Elswit), but given the talent both behind and in front of the camera, it could have been so much more. It got the thrill of the crime, in all its speedy intensity, but failed to develop the lives behind those crimes. Affleck seems enamored with the local color and texture of Charlestown, but seems to leave an awful lot of it out. Maybe somebody stole it?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Town' blasts its way onto Blu-ray on a Region free, 50GB disc. It's BD-Live equipped and comes in a package with a bonus DVD that contains not only a DVD copy of the movie but also a digital copy. The disc auto-plays. That is all.
There is a little bit of controversy surrounding this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1), but all in all, I'd say it was a fairly strong showing.
The disc has two different cuts of the movie (as mentioned earlier). Rather than some kind of branching option, each version gets its own encode on the dual-layer disc. That's a whole lot of movie on one disc, and to be honest, the overall quality of the transfers does dip a bit – there's a fair amount of crush, some artifacting, and some blurriness in darker sequences. But these instances aren't exactly prevalent and more casual viewers probably won't notice this type of stuff.
Why not? Because the rest of the transfer is so gangbusters. On the commentary, Affleck says that the filmstock he and cinematographer Robert Elswit used has a blue tint, with heavy contrast, and that stuff looks really amazing here. There's an amount of texture that really does look spectacular and more than compensates for the other, glitchier technical problems. It's a handsome-looking film, for sure, and the transfer more than does it justice.
On the "plus" side of things, flesh tones look very lifelike, the few colors that do appear (like the menacing nun masks that the bank robbers use for a heist) have a certain amount of pop, and like I said, texture and detail, on the whole, is quite excellent.
The problems with this transfer have been overblown, as far as I'm concerned, a reactionary response to just knowing that both versions of the movie have their own encode more than actual problems with the transfer itself. Casual film watchers will be rather impressed with this transfer. In the words of The B-52's: Good stuff. Well, pretty good.
Like the video, the audio portion features two DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks- a 24-bit mix for the theatrical cut and a 16-bit deal for the extended cut. Both sound really, really good.
I actually listened quite intently during the extended cut to see if I could notice a decrease in the audio quality, which can happen if the scenes are reinstated in a haphazard manner without the proper time to be finessed, like the theatrical cut. But after watching both cuts, I can honestly say I'm not really certain there is much of a difference in the mixes.
Both tracks are lossless and both have a whole lot going on: this is an action-centered film and the mixes are properly dynamic. Everything is incredibly lively, but the tracks never feel busy – instead, you really feel every gunshot, every squealing tire, and every atmospheric Charlestown character that shuffles around in the background. The surround tracks are expertly used, and every detail of every scene stands out as its own articulate sonic layer without any bleed-over or messiness.
Subtler elements like dialogue (always peppered with the F-word) are crystal clear and always well prioritized. So basically: this is a really great audio track, whichever version of the movie you watch. Totally great.
These are the only audio options on the disc, although there are subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The special features on this disc are ALL HD exclusive. See below!
I'm still not thrilled with 'The Town,' but after going through this disc obsessively, I can appreciate the craft that went into the movie. The "extended cut" included here does do some things to alleviate my heartache, but the movie remains messy and largely unconvincing. Ben Affleck, in his capacity as a director, does a bang-up job, but there could have been greater emphasis on character and less on kick-ass action sequences. Chances are, though, if you loved the movie, then you'll love this Blu-ray disc. Despite some minor video problems, the audio sounds like a million bucks and it's anchored by a great commentary track (that can be heard on both cuts of the movie) and a handful of engaging mini-documentaries. 'The Town' is recommended.