The Town (2010)

Rated R. Our Ratings: V-2 ;L1 ; S /N -1 Running time: 2 hours

For the wicked boast of the desires of their
heart,
In the pride of their countenance the wicked
say, “God will not seek it out” ;
all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
Their ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of their
sight;
as for their foes, they scoff at them.
They think in their heart, “We shall not be
moved;
throughout all generations we shall not
meet adversity.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and
deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
Psalm 10:3-9

The gang members are tight knit, having grown up together in Charlestown.

2010 Warner Brothers

The “Town” of the title of director/actor Ben Affleck’s new film is Charlestown, in which we see from the air the Bunker Hill National Monument towering over it. A narrator informs us that there are more bank robbers and carjackers plying their trades there than any place else in the world. The voice belongs to Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), and he should know. He is the informal leader of a gang of four that tracks the routs of armored cars delivering cash to banks and then, their faces hidden by masks, moves quickly, clubbing the guards and terrorizing the employees and patrons of the bank as they scoop up stacks of money into their bags. They depart quickly and always torch their getaway vehicle so that there will be no DNA evidence left for the authorities to use.

During the first robbery that we witness, the four gain quick control of a bank, with Doug’s best friend, the vile tempered Jeremy (James Coughlin) brutally clubbing the assistant manager who is prone on the floor. Doug forces the manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) to open the huge vault, and then as they escape, they blindfold and take her with them as a hostage, just in case. Seeing how scared she is, Doug assures her that she will not be harmed. True to his word, the van stops, and Claire is released, despite the misgivings of the other gang members. However, they retain her driver’s license, and thus know where she lives.

Doug is surprised to see that Claire’s home is just four blocks from his own, so he stalks her for a while and then strikes up her acquaintance in a laundromat. Personable as he is, she is soon drawn to him, and they begin seeing each other frequently. She tells him the details of her bank ordeal, including a detail that could be fatal: she would recognize the brutal member of the gang because she caught a glimpse of the tattoo on the back of his neck. However, Doug has fallen in love with her, and so takes no action—save, in a suspenseful café scene, when Jeremy spots and joins them, the worried Doug manages to cover up his buddy’s tattoo.

In many ways this film is similar to the bank heist film I saw two weeks before this one, Takers, especially in that the audience is led to root for the crooks (yes, there is also a dedicated lawman, this time FBI S.A. Adam Frawley {Jon Hamm}). After all, how can we be against anyone played by Ben Affleck? However, I did not feel as if this were such a moral lapse, as I did with Takers. This is probably due to our being let in more on Doug’s back-story: when he was a child his mother left home, so that he made some “Missing” posters and canvassed the area in the hope of finding her. Only years later did he learn while visiting his father in prison (in this short scene Stephen MacRay is played by my favorite under-rated actor, Chris Cooper) that she had been a junkie and had abandoned them voluntarily. In telling Claire about his father’s weeping over her departure, Doug says, “It sounded like a trapped animal. I’d never heard a man cry before.” Growing up in such an environment of drugs, thievery, and violence, it is little wonder that he and his best friend Jeremy turned out as they did.

Even before he met Claire, Doug had wanted to make the current bank job his last and leave town to start over. Both the friend he had grown up with, Jeremy, and the local crime boss who has been assigning the gang their jobs, have nixed this, warning him of dire consequences. Now that he has met Claire, and learning that she too is leaving her bank position because of her bad memories and moving out of town, Doug ‘s desire to leave Charlestown behind becomes overwhelming. But then there is that last job, and—When the FBI visit her Claire learns that Doug leads the gang that had abducted her. When she confronts him he pleads with her to trust him now, but she cries out how can she, when their relationship began with lies. “Because,” he says, he will speak the truth, and the answers will be so terrible that she will know that he is not lying.

Though filled with car chases, shoot-outs, and seemingly impossible escapes from the police, the film’s better script with its deeper than usual probes of the main characters, lifts it above Takers and most summer thrillers. Be forewarned that the film is also filled with foul language, sex, and brutal violence, so it would be a dubious choice to see with a church group, unless the members are veteran filmgoers. Recommended here more for individuals who are accustomed to strong film fare, this is a film well worth seeing.

For Reflection/Discussion

Spoiler at the end!

1. The film provides more than the usual background of its main character Doug MacRay than other crime thrillers. What were his parents like? From what you see of the father in the prison visit, do you think he has learned anything? Who was it that took Doug in when his father was sent to prison? How do you think Jeremy must have influenced Doug?

2. What do you think of the bad environment produces criminals argument? How does this film follow that? How does this theory account for those growing up in the same neighborhood, also victims of bad parenting, and yet did not enter a life of crime? Those who have seen the film American History X might recall the two men of grace who impacted Derek, changing the course of his life. Also, on a lighter note, check out the delightful song “Officer Krumpke” in West Side Story with its amusing presentation of the various theories of what produces criminality.

3. What do you recall of Jeremy’s background? (His dad was killed in prison, his mother died of HI V.)

4. How does even the minor story of Krista (Blake Lively) as the damaged single mom who drinks and engages in casual sex contribute to the lostness and alienation of the people trapped in Charlestown?

5. How is Fergus “Fergie” Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) the most villainous of all? What was his connection with the fate of Doug’s mother? How does he sow what he reaped?

6. How is the gang like those described in Psalm 10? Sort of a matter of the oppressed taking matters into their own hands and becoming oppressors themselves?

7. What motivates the FBI agent? What do you suspect his private life is like?

8. What do you think of the ending of the film? Was justice served? Is Doug really free, or—? Do you see the hand of God in any of the fates of the characters?

Warner Bros. Pictures