Career criminal's uneasy redemption

The Town (MA). Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively. 125 minutes

Rebecca Hall and Ben Affleck in The Town

With Gone Baby Gone (2007) actor Ben Affleck proved himself to also be a capable filmmaker. He now cements that reputation with The Town, a thoughtful, relationship driven crime drama containing a redemptive arc that would make fellow actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood proud.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a professional bank robber from the blue collar Boston neighbourhood of Charlestown. The precinct is a hotbed of generational criminality, and is particularly notorious for producing career bank robbers. Doug's own father is doing time for similar crimes. Under the direction of menacing florist-cum-crime boss Fergie (Postlethwaite) Doug is simply following in the family business.

The closest thing Doug has to a friend is James Coughlin (Renner). The two grew up together and are now accomplices. James has already served a stretch in jail, for reasons that have left Doug somewhat indebted to him. Doug has also been romantically involved with James' sister Krista (Lively), and these factors, as much as his decided skill as a criminal strategist and action man, shackle Doug to 'The Town'.

The film opens with a bank heist, during which a masked Doug and James and their colleagues take hostage bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall). After releasing her, Doug later tracks her down incognito to find out if she knows anything that might incriminate them. Unexpectedly, he glimpses the emotional after-effects of her ordeal and takes pity on her. Not knowing him as her assailant, she responds openly.

Doug sees in Claire the chance at a new kind of life. Their budding relationship causes him to experience, perhaps for the first time, guilt and empathy for one of his victims, as she confides in him the trauma of her kidnapping. It awakens in him a desire to escape and perhaps be redeemed from his previous life.

But redemption must be earned not just through the repentance of bad choices, but also through the subsequent making of good choices. There are consequences to first be confronted, and ethical dilemmas to be negotiated.

Not the least of these pertains to the secret origin of Doug's interest in Claire, which, if he reveals it to her, will change their relationship irretrievably; but which, surely, he can not keep from her forever.

Also, Doug's professional obligations are not going to readily release him. Neither are his personal obligations to James and to Krista.

Then there's the righteous crusade of FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Hamm), who is determined to mete justice upon Doug and his cronies. Frawley's tireless investigation conbtributes suspense and dramatic momentum to the film, but this, along with the film's exquisitely staged action sequences, simply provide a framework for the warm human stories that are at its heart.

The Town's trailer heralds it as the new film 'from the director of Gone Baby Gone'. No doubt it seemed like a savy marketing move to downplay the Affleck cringe factor (since Affleck also has top-billing); Affleck is an actor whose reputation has been marred by decidedly bad career choices (Gigli, anyone?).

That said, perhaps the cringe factor is misplaced. After all, Affleck was, in a past life, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, as co-writer with Matt Damon of Good Will Hunting in 1997. It should be no surprise that he might one day end up doing his best work behind, rather than in front of, the camera.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail. 

Topic tags: The Town, Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively



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