I’ve heard many people gripe that The Town was formulaic, unoriginal, or had wooden performances. Let me attempt to refute all of those, because The Town was actually a truly impressive directorial accomplishment, a movie I’d place in the pantheon of outstanding contemporary Boston films (The Paper Chase, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Departed).
Just an overall capsule review: I felt the movie had great performances, anchored by Jeremy Renner, and a plot that was inventive and enthralling, if at some points recognizable. Affleck’s directing went quite well, and this movie is a major feather in his cap (hate that phrase, but it’s the best the fits here). It’s a film that had its twists and turns, and in the end was unflinching and actually rejected the tired outcome many probably expected.
The same acting issues some see as flaws were completely intentional and perfectly suited to what this movie required. Affleck’s performance was not wooden or bland, but rather, understated. The same goes for Renner, the best part of the movie. Renner played James Coughlin as a rough, stoic Masshole with not much to him, no real ambitions beyond robbing banks, watching Boston sports, drinking beers with his pals. He played him that way because that’s who the character is. He wants for nothing beyond what he’s been given by his upbringing, and that’s what creates the tension between his character and Affleck’s (Doug), who is not similarly satisfied and clearly has an itch to get out of town when the movie first starts.
This, then, also provides the answer to those who argue (and so many have) that the relationship between Doug and Rebecca Hall’s character, Claire, is implausible and happens too quickly. That’s inaccurate because the relationship between those two is not the point. it isn’t what fuels the plot. What fuels Doug’s actions is his relationship to his town. There’s a reason the movie isn’t called The Girl. It isn’t even called The Friends. It’s about Doug wanting to get out of his stasis in Charlestown and do something else.
That’s why we don’t need to see any gripping, incredibly touching emotional connection evidenced between Doug and Claire; Doug doesn’t need it to be true love at first sight. For him, it’s enough that she’s cute, kind, soft, and unlike Charlestown girls (she’s the antithesis to Blake Lively’s character). And his affection and companionship is enough for her, too—we see enough (maybe the bare minimum, I admit) to see that she’s pretty calm and subdued and just wants to have a job and be with someone who treats her well. She, too, is lonely in Charlestown, like Doug.
That’s why (spoiler alert) the climax of the movie is not Doug’s final goodbye with Claire (via phone, with Jon Hamm in the room), nor is it even the Fenway heist, when Renner gets gunned down. It’s at the very end, when we see him down south, on his porch, finally free of the town.
My only problem with the movie, in fact, was Jon Hamm’s character, a totally cliched depiction of an FBI agent. And it wasn’t Hamm’s fault (he’s a great actor), they just gave him some of the movie’s worst lines. I’m not sure it gets any cornier than an agent reminding someone that he’s grilling for information, “You know, we are a national organization.” In addition, Blake Lively was surprisingly believable in a role that is miles from her Gossip Girl character, but I do think the very prolonged, graphic sex scene between her and Doug in the first half hour is completely unnecessary.
Otherwise, terrific acting (I’d like to see Renner get a Supporting Actor nomination, but I doubt it) and great directing by Affleck, who has really become a serious-films-only kind of actor. I also love the way Doug figures out that Claire isn’t actually betraying him (when he sees her in the room with Hamm, and she says, “come over,” but then she says, “It’ll be just like my sunny days,”) and the open-ended conclusion (I believe you’re supposed to think that Claire will find Doug eventually, but my girlfriend said the point is they won’t be together, and that Doug knows this and accepts it as fair punishment for his crimes). Surely the Town is one of the year’s best films.