Studio Name: Warner Bros. (Legendary Pictures/GK Films)
MPAA Rating: R
Disc/Transfer Information: 1080p High Definition 16X9 2.4:1 (2.40:1); Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Chris Cooper
Note: The version reviewed here is not the “Extended Cut” depicted in the artwork above.
As far as gritty, Boston-based crime thrillers go – and there have been a lot of them along the lines of Gone Baby Gone and Mystic River just to name two – Ben Affleck’s The Town was far from a weak effort. While he didn’t work with his brother Casey on this one, as the two of them did in the aforementioned Gone Baby Gone, Affleck directs a cast of non-marquee types save for perhaps Chris Cooper and gets the job done in many areas. This is a taut, brisk-paced crime drama that’s definitely good for an evening’s rental, although I don’t quite concur with Leonard Maltin’s assessment that this is “One of the Best Films of the Year.” Many have labeled The Town as Michael Mann’s Heat meets Good Will Hunting, as it marries those two films’ themes in various ways – the gritty Boston neighborhoods where the thick Massachusetts accents are regularly calling every character a “townie;” the local hoodlums hanging around in jogging outfits and gold chains, unable to speak a sentence without vomiting a steady stream of vulgarity; the Irish heritage tattoos and finally the bank robbing sequences and shootouts with bank security guards and cops a la Mann’s Heat.
Where is this all leading, you ask? Well, Affleck and his writing/producing crew have woven an intricate, interesting plot here and have fashioned a refreshing ending sequence that doesn’t really smack of anything typical as far as I was concerned. The Town is actually based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, and how close the narrative of that original story is to the way things are played out in the film I’m uncertain of; the story tells the tale of a group of young men living in a tough section of Boston, their thick Boston/Irish accents spearheaded by Affleck’s character’s brief narration in the opening sequence regarding the bank robbery that’s about to take place. Affleck and his crew are indeed bank burglars, coming up with some of the most inventive disguise costumes during their heists that would make The Joker jealous. These include downright creepy masks and full nun outfits and skeletal ensembles, all the more to terrorize their victims while fully disguising their identities. Most of Affleck’s crew are unstable, one member in particular whose sister Affleck’s character has slept with and supposedly has a child with and who Affleck can’t seem to control. One other member works for a company that allows him to manipulate the alarms and cameras of the banks they rob, while one other is the wheel man for quick getaways. The opening bank heist sequence depicts the men exploding into a Boston bank in their skeleton getups, ultimately overwhelming one of the appealing bank managers, who is forced at gunpoint to open the vault. When a silent alarm is tripped, one of the men loses their cool in anger and they end up taking the female manager hostage into their getaway van. They blindfold her and drop her off on a beach, telling her to remove the blindfold only when she feels the water on her toes.
The FBI is hot on the trail of Affleck and his goons, and soon interviews the shaken and traumatized bank manager who was taken by the gang. She reports noting a “Fighting Irish” tattoo on the back of one of their necks, and that’s about the only information she could give the authorities investigating the case – except for mentioning the fact that they told her if she spoke to the police or FBI, they would come to her house and brutally rape her (not in those words, in much harsher, f-based rhetoric) and kill her. Meanwhile, Affleck and his crew have a problem – they have taken the manager’s driver’s license, and realize she lives right in their neighborhood. The loose cannon of the bunch feels she must be eliminated, but Affleck takes charge of the situation, and tail the girl outside her home. Eventually getting to know her at a local Laundromat, Affleck begins to fall for her, and the plot becomes interesting as she tells him everything about her encounter with the bank robbers as they get closer.
Now, Affleck’s character appears to be in a real dilemma, showing feelings for the witness that could turn them all in if she even gets a glimpse of a hint that her new boyfriend and his gang were behind this. He starts to balance his emotions for the girl with fending off his hot headed robbery crew, who are eager for him to get rid of her – permanently. In the middle is a sub plot that splinters involving a local flower shop that is actually a front for a criminal enterprise run by a ruthless Irish gangster; it seems years ago, Affleck’s character’s father (played by Chris Cooper, and who is behind bars himself in this for life) was forced to do jobs for this mobster, and now Affleck and his crew are being ordered to carry out heists for him as well, under direct threat of killing Affleck’s new girlfriend. Meanwhile, the FBI compile enough intelligence to assume Affleck and his gang are behind the violent bank takeovers, and when they confront the bank manager who is quietly dating the leader of this crew, providing pictures of the men supposedly responsible for these robberies including the one in her own bank branch, the plot thickens even more.
As I mentioned earlier, the conclusion of The Town has a refreshing change of context, and doesn’t end the way you would think – in the sequences and scenes leading up to the final frame, Affleck and his crew are carrying out the orders of the Irish mobster who has hired them to rob the money taken in by Boston’s Fenway Park, and this time disguised as Boston cops, they attempt to do the job until they’re ultimately cornered by the police and FBI, who have already arrived outside the stadium courtesy of someone who tipped them off. Loud, violent shootout sequences between FBI, cops and Affleck’s unstable crew ensue, and the whole thing plays out like the aforementioned shootout scenes in Heat. What happens to Affleck’s character? Does he pull off the heist even after his men are no longer with him? And what happens between him and the female bank manager who now knows his true identity? You’ll have to rent The Town to find out.
As it was in Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and other Boston-based dramas and thrillers, there is an overwhelming sense of community and inside feel for the New England neighborhoods populated by the characters in these films here; Affleck’s character makes constant references to the Red Sox baseball team, while wearing apparel with varying Boston sports team embellishments – something that was explored in all these aforementioned films. Being a diehard New England Patriots fan of the old team, I can certainly understand the passion these neighborhoods have for their teams.
VIDEO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC LOOK?
This wasn’t, by far, the best looking Blu-ray I’ve seen, and I’ll even go so far to say that it didn’t really look all that great. Very “DVD-like” in spots, the transfer for The Town looked downright horrid in certain dark sequences, with heavy black crush and showers of grain and digital noise that washed out the image. These dark sequences fared the worst, exhibiting softness and a flat quality that left the overall experience seeming lifeless and not engaging. A thin ribbon of film grain ran throughout the background of nearly the entire film, and while not really distracting during the brightly lit daytime sequences, this grain wreaked havoc on the dark scenes and contributed to the kind of dull quality of the transfer as a whole.
Some sequences popped with detail – there were moments during close-ups of Affleck’s face, such as when he’s talking with the bank manager witness in the Laundromat, that the 1080p encode really showed what the format is capable of, revealing every blemish and pock mark. While accompanied by grain, these sequences were satisfying for a Blu-ray transfer, and the sweeping outdoor shots of the Boston neighborhoods the film takes place in looked great as well, with the green leaves of the trees and pebbles on the concrete ground buzzing with a high def slickness. Overall, though, this was not a satisfying transfer to my eyes.
AUDIO QUALITY ANALYSIS: HOW DID THE DISC SOUND?
The default English 5.1 Master Audio track fared nearly as well as the video – that is to say, I believe Warner Bros. could have done a better job in this department. Not much made it to the surround channels, and when information did, there was an awkward delay in the panning timing (yes, my system is correctly calibrated and adjusted for distances between speakers). A good example of this is when Affleck and his crew are being chased through the Boston catacombs during one of their final heists by cops and FBI cruisers, and cars are explosively rushing this way and that through the surround channels; there was an odd delay during one of these sequences in which the car that was supposed to race from the front center to the rear right surround seemed to arrive in a strange timing. Further, there was a lack of extreme deep bass, and gunshots, even during the exciting shootout sequences, didn’t really pack a lot of wallop. Some pinging of empty shells flung into the surround channels, as well as ambience of gunshot echoes and such, but in general, this wasn’t an encompassing mix in my view.
This was the stripped-down single disc version of The Town and, as such, there were no extras.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATIONS:
If you liked the dynamic and ultimate flow of those Boston-based thrillers and dramas I mentioned, such as Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and perhaps even Good Will Hunting, and appreciate the Irish neighborhood camaraderie between the often times violent young men that populate these towns, this will be right up your alley. All the elements of those films are here – the heavy tattoos, the gold chains, the tough guy sweat suit outfits, the regular stream of vulgarities spoken with a thick Massachusetts tongue…it was far from a bad film, but I’m not quite sure it was one of the best films of the year.