Ben Affleck explores themes of crime and redemption in his second film as director. Like his 2007 critically acclaimed directing debut, Gone Baby Gone, this new drama is also set in a tough, working class Boston neighborhood. Affleck stars in the film along with Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Rebecca Hall. Here's a look at The Town.
"There are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year. Most of these professionals live in a one square mile neighborhood called Charlestown."
The Charlestown section of Boston is steeped in Early American history. Its landmarks include the monument to the Revolutionary War Battle of Bunker Hill. Paul Revere began his famous "midnight ride" on its the cobblestone streets. But the recent history of The Town is more about midnight raids against organized crime and a rash of armed robberies.
Doug, the leader of a notorious bank crew, starts getting second thoughts when their latest job runs into a snag and they take the bank manager hostage. Claire is her name and they release her unharmed, but under the guise of making sure their identities are safe, Doug finds and gets to know Claire.
He isn't supposed to fall in love with her, but he does and decides it is time to quit his life of crime. That is not what his buddies want to hear and they force him to pull one last heist.
Ben Affleck stars as Doug and also directed the film. He says he found the dual role daunting.
"It was really challenging to do both," admits Affleck. "I'm still new to directing and I need a lot of time to focus on my directing. Acting takes time away from that. It was a hard thing. I hoped I would be up to it."
"You and your boys didn't just roll a Star Market over in Milton for a box of quarters. No, you decided to bang it out in the north end at nine o'clock in the morning with assault rifles. You dummies shot a guard. Now you're like a half-off sale at "Big and Tall." Every cop is in line."
Jon Hamm, star of the hit TV series Mad Men, plays the FBI agent determined to track down and stop Doug's gang. Although the crime investigation bureau did not officially support the film, Hamm says agents and officers on their own time did help him get his portrayal right:
"Researching the character, it was a tremendous advantage to be able to hang out and talk to several of the law enforcement officials in Boston at the Federal, state and local level," notes Hamm. "They do amazing work. There are a lot of robberies in Boston and a lot of them get solved because of the hard work by these guys. So it was nice to see from the inside how clear their objective is. Their job is to stop bad people from doing bad things. They are very clear on that, so that was very helpful to me."
As audacious as the gang seems to be, their exploits are drawn from real police accounts of robberies in the script adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan.
"There was an article in the local paper, the Boston Globe, that said that the FBI said there are more armored car robberies coming from Charlestown than from anywhere else," explains Hogan. "Living in the [Boston] area I was kind of aware of that reputation for robbery, but to see it spelled out like that really tripped something in me. That was really the starting point back in 1995 when I started to think about it."
Even so, star and director Affleck says The Town taps into a long tradition of films about cops and robbers.
"The fact that there are a lot of movies in this genre points to the fact that it is very tricky to do," Affleck says. "You don't change the genre. You can retell those things over and over again, so the danger is the audience is going to feel it's a little predictable; but those movies stand as reminders that even with following the same genre conventions you can do something special, so that's what we were trying to do."
"I'll see you again …this side or the other."
The Town also features Rebecca Hall as Claire, the woman who gives bank robber Doug a reason to go straight. Jeremy Renner co-stars as Doug's best friend and partner-in-crime Jem. Blake Lively is Jem's sister who also is in love with Doug; and Chris Cooper is Doug's estranged father serving a long prison sentence for just the sort of crimes his son now commits. The cast and filmmakers spoke about The Town when it premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival.