Town, The (2010)

Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.; Extended cut Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
Length: 125 min, extended cut 150 min
Grade: B+FFC=B
Budget: $37 million
Box Office: $173 million (92 U.S., 53 Intl., 28 DVD)

Written by: Peter Craig (First script), Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting), and Aaron Stockard (Gone Baby Gone), based on the novel by Chuck Hogan
Directed by: Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Starring: Ben Affleck
With: Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, and Pete Postlethwaite

Charlestown is the roughest neighborhood in Boston and a breeding ground for criminals, especially bank robbers. A failed hockey player turned crew leader tries to escape that life and discovers it’s much harder than it sounds.

Entertainment Value: B+
Once you get used to the nearly incomprehensible gibberish people call a Boston accent, this is really good. Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker) is again fantastic, and everyone else is at least very good. The plot is full of chilling scenes and fascinating plot development. The crux of it all is the tension you feel between wanting the protagonist to win (because he’s the protagonist) and yet wanting him to fail because he’s a criminal.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol D+, Sex/Nudity D+, Violence F, Language F
Look, it’s R for every reason you can name, except there isn’t a ton of sexuality/nudity. But people are killed, beaten, every form of profanity is used a ton, and characters talk about using drugs and drink heavily. As if that weren’t enough, bank robbers are the heroes.

Significant Content: F
Here’s what’s so terrible about this movie in the end. You never wind up really wanting justice because the “good guys” are the bank robbers and the cops are presented (at best) as neutral opponents trying to thwart them. The criminals are clever, they have honor and a code, and especially Doug is someone you somehow want to see succeed. Cops and decent people are killed or injured a lot, but the only people we are told to care about are the criminals. There’s just no portrayal of redemption or decency as virtues in here.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Certainly as a portrayal of life in the bad part of Boston, this is quite good. Also, precisely because of the turmoil it generates in you as a viewer, there’s enough to discuss here. However, I’m suddenly quite troubled by the fact that Hollywood thinks “gritty” is inherently good. Near as I can tell, “gritty” means “ugly, uncomfortable, and disturbing.” It seems like “uplifting” and “edifying” would be inherently bad to them, but I know sometimes they surprise me.

Discussion Questions:
~When James says that it’s ridiculous how some guys in prison pretend they want to get out, what is he getting at? Why would someone prefer prison?
~Would you describe Doug’s crew as having a code of ethics? What about the criminals in Charlestown? Is it a code that makes sense?
~Given all the precautions the crew takes to not get caught, why do you think they have tattoos at all? Imagining that they chose to have them anyway, what does that say about them and their values?
~Who in this movie do you want to “win?” Why? What would winning entail? Do you think it’s evil for movies to be made that encourage the audience to admire criminals and hope they succeed? Can a movie be “good” without advocating goodness in any discernible way? If God were watching real people like this, what would He want for them as a loving Father?
~Why are movies like this always built around main characters who are relatively smart, dapper, and entertaining even though the real life versions of them are rarely anything but brutal monsters?
~What makes it hard for Doug to escape his life? To what degree do you blame him for this difficulty?
~A central feature of this movie is Doug’s relationship with Claire. What do you make of this? What do you make of the ending?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Claire telling Doug about the robbery prior to their first date.
~Their lunch in the café.
~Doug and his dad at the jail.
~The two of them having a discussion about whether she should tell the FBI.
~Confronting James about wanting to leave.
~Calling Claire’s apartment after Fenway.
Overall Grade: B
Judged on its face as a bank robbery story about hard life in Boston, this is very good. Just be careful what it does to your sense of law and justice.

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