Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’ Is So Much More Than a Heist Movie
The 2010 film, The Town is mostly remembered for the events leading up to a series of bold and deadly heists in the city of Boston. But if you look a little closer at the film that Ben Affleck directed and starred in, you’ll see that there is much more to it than just a money caper. Behind the Grim Reaper job, the Nun job, and the Fenway Park job is a multilayered tale of friendship, love, and self-preservation, and how the allure of big, easy money can blur the lines between what you were and what you want to become.
Doug MacRay (Affleck) is a hardscrabble kid from the Charlestown part of Boston who grew up with a con for a father and a mother who was an addict and killed herself when he was just a little boy. It forced him into a life of crime because it was the only way he and his blue-collar friends knew how to survive. The film is really about a larva cocooning itself and trying to emerge as a butterfly that can fly away and leave its old ways far behind.
Dealing With the Past
You can’t just get up and leave it all behind because you feel the heat coming down and decide that there’s nothing left for you in a town like Charlestown. You have ties to the North Boston neighborhood that lies on the banks of the Charles River. It took you in and gave you its trust. It’s a connection that the people there take very seriously. One of the people in that community is Doug’s best friend, Jimmy Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), who is actually more like a brother. Jimmy represents what Doug was. He is the biggest, gnarliest root tying him to Charlestown and a one-way ticket to prison. Jimmy’s family took Doug in when his con of a father was sent to prison. He owes a debt of loyalty not only to him, but also to the girl he grew up loving, Krista (Blake Lively), who also happens to be Jimmy’s sister.
And make no mistake, Jimmy leans into Doug, using his past as the fulcrum to his future. Leaving that behind is easier said than done, and the jobs they pull together after Jimmy finishes a nine-year stint in prison only tightens the noose around Doug’s neck. During their first bank job, Doug’s past and his future collide and start to put a squeeze on him that is going to have to give.
An Unlikely Love
Clair Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is the manager at the first bank the crew hits, or the Grim Reaper job, because of the angel of death/collector of souls masks that they wear to conceal their faces. Doug doesn’t know while he’s forcing her to open the safe that she represents his future. She represents everything Doug wants to become. The film is about Doug’s quest to write a second chapter in his life, and what he’ll sacrifice to do it. She is a beautiful young woman who volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club that Doug attended as a youth, and the two connect over tragedies and unfortunate upbringings.
There is immediate chemistry between them that serves as a light at the end of Doug’s dark tunnel of crime and a life that is stuck in Charlestown and a future that doesn’t have any real possibilities for happiness. Clair is the embodiment of all the things that a fresh, new start could provide. But, he’s keeping a big secret from her, and is jeopardizing any potential future he might have with her the longer he withholds the fact that he is one of the people responsible for the trauma she experiences during the robbery. And he’s about to risk it all in an effort to make a clean break from a dead-end existence in his old neighborhood and everything that comes with a new and exciting love.
One Last Score
Jimmy is eager to get back to pulling bank jobs because he’s fresh out of prison and wants to get his hands on some quick cash, so he can settle back into society with a comfortable bankroll. Accordingly, he sets up one last job to rob Fenway Park after a Red Sox and Yankees baseball game that will net them an estimated $3 million in cash. Unfortunately, the job is being fenced by Fergus Colm (Pete Postelthwaite), a mid-level drug dealer, career criminal, and an old associate of Doug’s father, Stephen “Big Mac” MacRay (Chris Cooper). Doug wants no part of the job and tries to buy his way out of it, but Fergus threatens Clair’s life if he doesn’t lead the crew for one final big score. The two have a contentious relationship that is just another ugly part of his family’s history in Charlestown. There was no way that Doug was going to break free from the town without cutting Fergus in before he leaves. The crew is already feeling the heat as FBI Special agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is getting closer and closer to nabbing his targets. The risk heading into the Fenway job is sky-high, and serves as the film’s climax, symbolizing the key to the final shackle tethering Doug and preventing his new start with Clair.
The FBI Catches up With the Crew
There was a palpable sense that the crew was pushing their luck with the Fenway job from the get go. Jimmy’s greed and Fergus’ bankroll were ominous harbingers foreshadowing that their priorities were becoming compromised and that bad things were about to unfold. When the job goes sideways, it’s no real surprise that Special Agent Frawley and the rest of the FBI are on them quickly. Jimmy’s greed ends up getting him killed in a hail of gunfire, but Doug manages to elude capture by disguising himself as a Boston police officer and ducking away at the scene. It affords him one last opportunity to speak with Clair about what could have been. The two share a poignant phone conversation as Doug knows that Frawley and the FBI is listening in. At first, he’s disappointed when he believes that she is still angry about the secret he kept from her, and is working with the FBI to ambush Doug by setting up a rendezvous between the two star crossed lovers. But in a heartwarming twist, she warns Doug not to come and see her with a cryptic message from a private conversation the two had shared on a date, and Doug smiles, knowing that she forgives and still loves him. It’s a bittersweet moment that sees Doug realize that he’ll never break free of his past. What should have been a meaningful relationship is put on hold by the heat that his life of crime has brought upon himself and Clair.
A Final Gesture
In a touching final sequence, Clair is seen digging up a bag full of cash that Doug has left for her from his cut of the Fenway job. And though Doug does manage to leave Charlestown behind, it’s a cold irony that the town that he is finally putting in the rearview mirror is one that finally has the thing that he’s been looking for his whole life — a meaningful relationship and connection with another person. The Town is ultimately a tale of how you can never completely escape from a complicated and troubled past unscathed. And even though Doug leaves a free man, he would trade it all in for a future with the girl that he is forced to leave behind in the town that made it impossible to stay.