New on DVD/Blu-ray: The Town (2010)

Admit it: between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, you didn’t think Affleck would be the one getting all the kudos 13 years after “Good Will Hunting”. While Damon is content to star in one big Hollywood studio blockbuster after another (with the occasional indie film for cred’s sake thrown in here and there), Affleck seems to have completely re-invented himself into a critically acclaimed actor/director overnight. His latest is “The Town”, a crime thriller set in the writer/actor/director’s native Boston, and it will be available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, On Demand, and for Download on December 17, 2010 from Warner Home Video.

Ben Affleck follows his acclaimed Gone Baby Gone directorial debut by directing, co-writing and starring in a taut thriller about robbers and cops, friendship and betrayal, love and hope and escaping a past that has no future. He plays Doug MacRay, leader of a Boston bank robber gang but not cut from the same cloth as his fellow thieves. When Doug falls into a passionate romance with the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) briefly taken hostage in their last heist, he wants out of this life and out of the town. As the Feds close in and the crew questions his loyalty, he has one of two choices: betray his friends or lose the woman he loves. Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper also star.

Movie Review:

Charlestown, “the town” in Ben Affleck’s “The Town”, has so many bank robbers that whenever a bank robbery happens in Boston, the police immediately close the bridge that admits access to that small area of the city, the idea being to block off the culprits’ escape back home. Or at least, that’s the amazing fun fact given out early in the crime flick “The Town”. True or not, that’s one hell of a hook for a movie.

“The Town” stars Affleck (who also directs) as Doug MacRay, a local hero who once had a promising hockey career before washing out and returning home, where he entered the family business. In this case, the family, led by a currently incarcerated Chris Cooper, is bank robbery. Doug has a small crew of friends, including his childhood buddy, the very, very volatile James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), whose sister (Blake Lively) Doug once dated.

The film opens with a stunning daylight bank robbery that nets the crew a nice chunk of change — as well as bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), who James insists on bringing with them “just in case”. Quickly, though, we become very aware that Doug is not enamored with his current lifestyle and profession. In fact, he’s looking to quit, to “make a change”, a proclamation that his friends and father dismisses without serious consideration. But ol Doug is very serious, even more so now that he’s since struck up a friendship, followed by a romantic relationship with former hostage turned girlfriend from the right side of town Claire.

She doesn’t know he was one of the robbers, of course, and for a while all is fine and roses. Doug has managed to keep the secret from her, but with James pushing him to do another job, with the cops, led by FBI guy Jon Hamm closing in, and local boss The Florist (Pete Postlethwaite) demanding loyalty, incriminating secrets will be revealed, gunfire exchanged, and childhood bonds tested.

Affleck has certainly assembled a fine cast for “The Town”, with everyone from the leads to Pete Postlethwaite as the demanding and florist-loving neighborhood kingpin doing great work. Blake Lively makes quite the impression in the little screentime she’s given. But the outstanding role here has to belong to Jeremy Renner as the hotheaded, oh-so-dangerous Jimmy Coughlin. The film really crackles whenever Renner shows up to ruin everyone’s good time. Hamm, for his part, is very understated as Mister Exposition Fed, and honestly, I’m not sure if his character couldn’t have been eliminated completely from the film. Everything that takes place could still take place without the movie spending any real “personal” time with the cops.

Although it’s certainly a violent movie (it is about bank robbers, after all), “The Town” is not an especially bloody one in the early goings. There are some brutal beatings and there is a lot of gunfire during the film’s second robbery (about an hour in), though it doesn’t really yield any major bloodshed. Affleck saves up the film’s major action set piece for the final robbery (set in and around Affleck’s own beloved Fenway Park, of course), where bad guys and good guys (and everyone else in-between) finally meet up for a hellacious gunfight that leaves bodies everywhere. That long, protracted sequence should satisfy most action junkies, and is certainly what you would expect from a movie like this. Whoever heard of a serious movie about bank robbers not involving a “hail of bullets” finale?

Until that final act, though, “The Town” is satisfied to spend much of its time following Doug as he wrestles with his past, his present, and hopes for a future. Affleck the co-writer/director wisely builds the relationship between Doug and Claire from the ground up, taking as much time as he needs, as our hero moves between two worlds, never really feeling very comfortable in either one. He’s a man without a home, a boy without a father, lost and adrift, hoping to find something to anchor onto before it’s too late.

If you missed “The Town” in theaters, give it a go on DVD and Blu-ray. This town is worth the visit.

Blu-ray Combo Pack Review:

There are two versions of the film on the disc, the theatrical release and an extended version that includes over 30 additional minutes. Hamm’s FBI character’s lecture about the robbers hailing from Charlestown, for example, while appearing in the trailer, doesn’t actually appear in the theatrical release. But you can see it in its entirety in the extended version. The film also introduces a romantic element between Hamm’s character and Claire that just doesn’t work. Hamm also comes across as a bit of a douche in his extra screentime, so it was probably wise to remove them so as not to make him too much of the villain when, you know, he being a friggin FBI agent chasing bank robbers and all. Most of the extended time, though, is spent with Doug’s courtship of Claire, including a late-night visit to his “friend’s” boat.

Co-writer/director/star Ben Affleck does a full-length audio commentary that can be heard on either version. As expected, Affleck has a lot of details about all aspects of filming, but he’s also funny and self-deprecating enough to keep the track pretty amusing. It would have been nice to have more than just him on the track, though, but then again, I’m always partial to cast commentaries because they seem to always have a lot more fun with it. The more the merrier, I always say.

The Blu-ray’s other special features are 30-minutes worth of “focal points” that can be triggered automatically as you watch the film, or seen separately. Focal points are essentially mini-featurettes that takes you behind-the-scenes of all facets of the film’s production. Good stuff for those who like getting into the nitty-gritty of their movies.

Buy “The Town” on DVD or Blu-ray from Warner Home Video on December 17, 2010.