I was born and raised in the town of Weymouth. By car or public transit, it was a short trip into the city of Boston. So when I was growing up I spent a lot of time there. During my summers between semesters of college I’d come back home and hang out in the bars and neighborhoods of the city I still love. We’d drive all over Boston from Southie to Chinatown, and from Copley to Harvard Square. But one place we almost never went was the one square mile of cobblestone and brick called Charlestown. We kept our distance.
Charlestown, often ignored and left off maps of Boston and with a chip on it’s shoulder because of it, was the location of the Battle of Bunker Hill and also where “Old Ironsides,” the U.S. Navy’s battleship, Constitution, is docked. And even though it looks pretty in pictures, Charlestown was nothing but trouble. The guys our age were tough and liked to fight and the chances of going into a Charlestown bar and not coming out without a bloody or broken nose weren’t great. Plus, the people who call Charlestown their home town don’t exactly have a fondness for outsiders. Either you were a “townie” or you were not. And if you were not you’d be better off not crossing that bridge. It’s a small provincial, clannish neighborhood and the residents like it that way.
Besides being an historic part of Greater Boston, that little piece of land also has the seemly distinction of producing more bank and armored car robbers than any other place in the U.S. It’s something that folks there are actually proud of though you’d never hear anybody mention it. That’s because of Charlestown’s famous “code of silence” where nobody “evah knows ‘nuthin'”. Nevah. Evah.
Ben Affleck’s new film project, “The Town” takes you to the places where my friend Tommy and I never went; straight into the bars, street corners and triple-Decker’s where the townies live and breath. Affleck directed, produced, co-wrote and stars in this tense, taught thriller. And he absolutely nails every second of this film, as he follows one such gang of thugs, which he happens to also be a member of. Affleck, who of course hails from this neck of the woods, gets every last detail right. The hard to imitate Boston accents, the look of the city at sunrise and in the evening, and especially the bad attitudes. But most importantly, Affleck’s “The Town” captures the terrible trap of crime and dead-end lives that most these young people find themselves caught up in.
I’ve seen plenty of films about Boston, including the admirable, “The Departed,” which netted an Oscar for master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. But I’ve never seen the places and the people so perfectly depicted and mimicked. Every frame of this film, from the opening bank heist to the film’s climax, where the foursome try to knock over the cash room at the “cathedral of Boston”, Fenway Park, is pitch perfect and packed with white knuckle tension. And it’s Affleck’s eye for the details that transcends this film from just another okay cops-and-robbers saga to a brilliant movie about the tragedy of lost lives.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Affleck has such a great cast to paint his canvass with. Jeremy Renner, who we last saw in the Academy-award winning, “The Hurt Locker,” once again shows his incredible range both in the robbery scenes and when he’s faced with a partner in Affleck who wants out.
Another real standout performance comes from Affleck’s character’s incarcerated father, played with even-tempered steel eyed guilt and regret by the astonishing actor Chris Cooper. Even newcomer Claire Keesey shows a dangerous vulnerability as the bank manager taken hostage and later stalked by the thugs who think she might be their undoing. When Keesey’s character, a preppy newcomer to Charlestown’s condos Rebecca Hall is followed and subsequently unknowingly falls in love with Affleck’s, Doug MacRay, the plot thickens and the trap closes tighter.
On the other side of the law, Affleck gets a stellar performance from Jon Hamm, fresh from the set of “Mad Men,” who plays an FBI agent determined to bring this crew down. In one remarkable scene, Hamm’s FBI agent on a mission goes mano y mano with Affleck in an interrogation room, but fails to intimidate his bird of prey.
Affleck uses an unusual amount of extreme close-ups which bring you even deeper into the drama and seem to implicate you as an accomplice. And whether the location is a park bench in Harvard Square or the inside of a Charlestown skating rink, Affleck seems right at home.
All things considered, “The Town” is nothing short of a masterpiece. The film’s quite, haunting score moves it along like a train chugging along through the night. In the end the there are no easy answers. Instead the viewer is left to find his or her own sad conclusions.
And unlike the getaways that help Charlestown’s artful dodgers live to rob another day, they’ll be no getaway after viewing this movie. It’s a complex film that will stay in your consciousness for a very long time.