“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” —Romans 7:15,17.
In this passage from the book of Romans, the apostle Paul is struggling with something that every human being struggles with: the idea of knowing what is right and what is wrong, yet still choosing to do what is wrong. This leads to an interminable cycle of sin and guilt that has plagued mankind since the fall of Adam. It’s tough to break this cycle; no matter how hard we try, we continue to fail.
This is the essential dilemma, in a much more extreme manner, of “The Town”, a heist film that takes place in a one square mile neighborhood in Boston, MA, called Charlestown. Charlestown is a neighborhood that has historically been responsible for the most bank robberies in the country, and Doug MacRay leads a crew that is considered to be the best in town. His father was a bank robber and is now serving a life sentence in prison. His lifelong friend James Coughlin just finished serving 9 years for killing someone who threatened Doug’s life. His ex–girlfriend Krista is a drug addict.
Things change for Doug when he meets Claire, a girl who is not from Boston and does not know Doug’s past. This inspires him to change. He realizes that he’s had enough; he wants more than to just live a life of crime. He no longer drinks or does any drugs, but he keeps getting pulled back in to accepting heist jobs for his crew. Whether it’s out of loyalty to his friends or to honor his father, Doug keeps failing in his attempts to leave Charlestown and break the endless cycle.
As the FBI begins to sniff around some jobs pulled by his crew, Doug begins to plan his escape. Many complications arise and ultimately lead Doug down a road where he must confront his inner demons, in order to make a change.
“The Town” is an expertly crafted, gripping thriller that is, also, a great character study. Its combination of action, drama, and mystery is pulled off wonderfully, due to the director and lead actor of the film, Ben Affleck. As the main character, Affleck delivers arguably his best performance, as a layered criminal who is trying to do the right thing. Behind the camera, Affleck improves on his first effort, the outstanding “Gone, Baby Gone,” making a riveting and sophisticated picture. The directorial highlights include amazingly shot heist in Fenway Park. Once a laughing stock in Hollywood, known for taking high paying acting gigs in terrible movies like “Paycheck,” “Daredevil,” and “Reindeer Games,” Affleck has done a complete 180 degree turn and is now choosing his projects much more wisely.
Affleck does a wonderful job, but he is almost outdone by the supporting cast. Jeremy Renner, fresh off his Oscar® nomination for last year’s “The Hurt Locker” is excellent as Doug’s best friend and worst influence. Jon Hamm of the hit TV show “Mad Men” is pitch perfect as FBI man Adam Frawley. Rebecca Hall is more than effective as Claire, Doug’s new girlfriend.
There’s a great moral dilemma in “The Town” that is relatable. Although most people aren’t hardened criminals, we all have a desire to change something about ourselves for the better. While it’s relatable, “The Town” is also a film that is very realistic, and clearly made only for adults. True to the neighborhood the film represents, “The Town” is littered with language including over 150 F-words and many other obscenities, plus 8 profane uses of God’s names.
There are, also, some quick shots from a strip club that include some nudity, as well as two scenes with heavy sexual content, but no nudity. The camera doesn’t turn away from strong acts of violence that include, but are not limited to, point blank shootings, beatings, and stabbings.
“The Town” is a gritty heist film with a central character who wants a better life. As the film unfolds, we see that it’s tough to break a cycle once it’s started, and even when it’s broken you still have to pay for your sins. This film is, among many other things, an ultimately redemptive cautionary tale about the power of our sinful nature.