I checked out The Town this past weekend. I won't get too much into the plot, but to summarize: Lifelong friends rob banks in Boston -- One friend unexpectedly falls in love, sees a world outside his own limited world -- He wants to get out, but his past and his acquaintances seek to prevent it. As someone once said, "You can join the Firm, but you can never leave". We all kinda feel locked into our boring jobs and stale lives, but our impediments to change don't usually involve death.
The Town, written and directed by Ben Affleck and also starring, is without the artifice and sheen of a lot of the Affleck movies of the past (anything by Michael Bay). Like Wunelle said in his review, Affleck directorial style seems to have been influenced by Clint Eastwood. Strong praise indeed but not without merit. Eastwood films are not overly talkative, letting the setting speak. Eastwood films generally do not have your classic "hero", but more of an anti-hero. This film is no different. You are put in the odd position of rooting for sociopathic and violent thieves.
While the Eastwood comparisons are apt, I sense a bit of Scorsese influence as well. Affleck in his writing, in his choice of setting, and in his understanding of the dynamic between classes is very much evocative of how Scorsese is with New York/New Jersey and specifically the Italian-American community. Affleck's setting is obviously south-side Boston and has been used in all three movies that he's had creative input in (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone, The Town).
After having seen Gone Baby Gone and knowing that Affleck is a competent director, I wasn't surprised by his effort here. But I was pleasantly surprised by his acting. Not that he hasn't shown talent there in the past, but it's certainly harder to find those few nuggets in a sea of bad material. He IS the lead actor in this one and has to hold his own among a bevy of talented actors including Pete Postlethwaite, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper and most notably, Jeremy Renner. Renner explores some of the same off-the-rails type personality of his character in The Hurt Locker. He's undeniably talented, but I would be curious to see him in a more subtle drama just to see different parts of his talent. Not to shortchange the female talent, but Rebecca Hall is very good and Blake Lively (The Gossip Girl) is practically unrecognizable as a drugged up barfly.
The best scenes in the movie are the interactions between these great actors: Affleck and Cooper during a visitation of Affleck's character (Doug MacRay) to his father (Cooper) in prison; Affleck and Renner in a tense scene where MacRay tells his friend and partner James Coughlin (Renner) that he intends on leaving both his profession (robbing banks) and Boston; and the several scenes between MacRay and gangster Fergie Colm (Postlethwaite) in the latter's flower shop.
Is it the first heist movie ever? No. Has the premise been used before? Yes. But is it good? Undeniably. There is obvious craft used here. It's well-written, acted and directed with outstanding action scenes. It's gritty. It's not Hollywood. It's a story of revenge and a story of redemption. And it's one of the best movies I've seen this year. Grade: A-