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Bank robber Doug MacRay gets romantically involved with a woman who doesn't know he was her captor during a heist. This sets in motion a conflict of him wanting to leave the life, but getting held back by his friends.
For more about The Town and The Town Blu-ray release, see The Town Blu-ray Review
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine
Director: Ben Affleck
» See full cast & crew
The Town Blu-ray Review
"I'm proud to be from Charlestown. It ruined my life, literally, but I'm proud."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, December 11, 2010
If I hitched a ride in a DeLorean, traveled back to 1995, and told my stunned seventeen-year-old self that actor Ben Affleck -- Mallrats' smarmy Volkswagen aficionado -- would soon win an Academy Award for a little film called Good Will Hunting and eventually become one of the most promising filmmakers of the early 21st Century, I have a good feeling he'd laugh in my stubble-peppered face and show me the door. Yet here we are. In 1997, Affleck took home a coveted gold statue and helped Robin Williams snag one of his own. In 2007, Gone Baby Gone earned the first-time feature film writer/director tremendous acclaim, a variety of prestigious honors and, above all, a healthy dose of industry respect. And this year, with inevitable nominations still looming on the horizon, The Town has endeared itself to critics, inspired Oscar buzz, and invited fitting comparisons between Affleck and filmmaker Clint Eastwood. The future works in mysterious ways.
Based on Chuck Hogan's Hammett Prize-winning novel "Prince of Thieves," The Town is a slowburn crime thriller cut from the same cloth as Michael Mann's Heat and, unsurprisingly, Gone Baby Gone. This time though, Affleck steps in front of the camera as Doug MacRay, a clever career criminal who begins to develop feelings for a woman named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the manager of a bank he and his partners recently robbed. It doesn't take long for things to unravel. Doug's affection is born from guilt (never a strong foundation for a relationship), his cohort and lifelong friend (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) would rather tie up loose ends than allow Doug to snuggle up with a witness, a local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite) applies even more pressure to an already volatile situation, MacRay's ex (Blake Lively) refuses to roll over and let the love of her life leave town, and Claire reveals she has information that could help the authorities identify one of her captors. Worse, FBI agents Adam Frawley (Madmen's Jon Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Lost's Titus Welliver) are hot on the trail of the crew and closing in fast. Needless to say, Doug is forced to make some very difficult decisions.
Affleck's second film adheres to genre convention far more than his first -- The Town cues up golden-oldies like "One Last Heist," "Lovelorn Criminal," "Downtown Shootout," "Near Perfect Crime" and "The Heat is Comin' Around the Corner," among others -- but between the ensemble's award-worthy performances, Doug and his partners' heartfelt local-boys dynamic, and the director's masterfully staged heists, it hardly matters. Affleck, Renner, Hamm and Hall create characters that won't soon be forgotten, and the actors all but fade away, replaced by a cast of authentic victims of circumstance and choice struggling to fulfill whatever role life has assigned each one. Hall in particular is a heartbreaking revelation, and deserves more attention than any one writer could provide; Affleck draws quiet strength from within, all while restraining the cocksure playfulness he would have indulged ten years ago; Renner boils over to great effect, brandishing every impulse and emotion that bubbles to the surface on his blood-spattered sleeve; and Hamm provides earnest flashes of a fractured soul consumed by his work and frustrated by the isolation it brings. Not to be outdone, Affleck's supporting cast and crew eliminate any hint of a slick Hollywood production, making Affleck's crime-infested Charlestown a fully realized character in its own right.
The Town unearths layer after layer of tragedy, hopelessness and multi-generational conflict, all while Affleck and co-writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard strike a careful balance between the film's exhilarating heists and its somber interpersonal drama. Palpable tension pulses beneath each scene (albeit at the expense of levity), and even the most convenient plot developments are anchored to reality in one way or another. Doug and Claire don't intuitively come together; they circle at a distance, dance a hesitant dance, and retreat in insecurity, transforming what could have been a silly love story into a fascinating pairing. By the same token, Affleck and Renner could have rough-n-tumbled their way through the film's most compelling relationship, but they do the exact opposite. Theirs feels like a genuine, lifelong friendship, and their subsequent moral dilemmas seem more critical as a result. And every character, to some degree, is bound and chained to Charlestown; a home, a prison and an inescapable way of life. The Town may not be a perfect film -- comparisons to Heat are unavoidable (and, sad to say, a tad unfavorable), especially when it comes to their strikingly similar third acts -- but as a character-driven genre pic, it works incredibly well. I'm sure many of you will even include it among your top ten films of 2010. I doubt it will find its way onto my year-end list, but it isn't that far off either.
Reviewer's note: I considered outlining the differences between the 125-minute theatrical cut and 153-minute extended version of the film, but realized doing so would risk spoiling the various scenes the Extended Cut has to offer. However, the disc includes an optional feature that, when engaged, displays a small on-screen icon anytime a new scene begins, and Affleck dissects each additional scene at length in his EC commentary. For the record, I personally preferred the theatrical cut a bit more. The extended version boasts some truly great scenes (and fleshes out some of the more accelerated subplots and relationships), but a few scenes didn't work nearly as well as others. Interestingly, Affleck seems to echo similar sentiments in his audio commentary, and discusses the pros and cons of each addition at length. My advice? Watch the theatrical cut first, the extended cut soon after, and listen to Affleck's Extended Cut commentary to top off the experience. It might take a few days, but it's well worth it if you have any affection for the film itself.
The Town Blu-ray, Video Quality
Before I address the controversial, potentially problematic aspects of Warner's Blu-ray release, let me make one thing abundantly clear: The Town's comparable 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfers look great. Robert Elswit's chilly streetwise palette is brimming with windy Boston blues, skintones are purposefully withdrawn and altogether lifelike, and black levels are deep, evocative and foreboding. Likewise, tremendous respect has been paid to Affleck's every cinematic choice, be it his color timing or the stark splashes of light and shadow he brandishes from scene to scene. And detail? Closeups are teeming with crisp, revealing, magnificently resolved fine textures, the film's gritty veneer of grain is intact, and edge definition is sharp and natural. Yes, soft shots are fairly common, and yes, minor ringing is apparent from time to time. However, the filmic softness and inherent inconsistencies that grace the proceedings isn't a detriment in any way -- each instance traces back to Elswit's original photography, not some mysterious issue with either transfer -- and the slight, intermittent ringing that appears isn't obtrusive, never becomes a distraction, and was visible in the film's theatrical print. Moreover, banding and aliasing are MIA, substantial macroblocking is nowhere to be found, and DNR clearly isn't a factor. Make no mistake, if do-or-die videophiles relied on nothing but their eyes to evaluate The Town's terrific transfers, high scores and higher praise would abound.
Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Rather than employ seamless branching, Warner decided to grant each version of the film its own encode; a decision I'd applaud if the studio hadn't then crammed both transfers onto a single BD-50 disc. Housing four and a half hours of film on a dual-layer disc isn't necessarily cause for alarm, at least not on its own, but those who make a habit of monitoring video specs will be shocked, upset even, at just how low each encode's bitrate dips throughout the presentation. Be that as it may, neither cut of the film suffers all that much. Crush is easily the biggest problem that rears its head -- heavy shadows, night skies, dark hair and clothing sometimes merge -- but it's tough to tell what should be attributed to Affleck and Elswit's intention, atmosphere and technique, and what may possibly be the product of an excessively compressed source. Even if the blame falls squarely on Warner though, the offending shots are few and far between, and brief and fleeting at their worst. Beyond that, the only anomaly that caught my attention was some faint artifacting. But it was an even smaller, less pervasive issue. More often than not, I had to actively search for it, and when I found it, it looked exactly like the trivial artifacting I've seen on a number of highly regarded, high-bitrate AVC-encoded releases. Each encode's bitrate may suggest The Town will be plagued by a variety of problems, but the results suggest otherwise.
Would The Town look better if it were given more room to breathe? That's the question of the hour, and the question that will fuel debate on message boards for months to come. Frankly, I can't imagine it could look much better, especially after listening to Affleck dissect each scene in the disc's informative audio commentary. Other than eliminating whatever crush and noise isn't inherent to the source -- good luck figuring out whether Warner or the filmmakers are to blame in each affected shot -- there really isn't room for any substantial improvement. Not that it will matter to anyone who's already made up their mind. Those who breathe and bleed tech specs will either go on a frame-by-frame witch hunt, attack the studio without proper cause, or refuse to buy The Town all together (without bothering to rent a copy and check whether or not the actual transfers warrant such animosity). However, those of you who judge presentations on their merits and shortcomings alone will shrug your shoulders, chuckle at the intensity of some of the arguments that arise, and wonder what all the fuss is about. Would a single, seamless branching presentation be more ideal? Absolutely. But when the results are this impressive, it's strange to watch principled purists draw such deep lines in the sand. Again, The Town looks great. Not perfect, but great. I walked away a happy man.
The Town Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Town also features two separate DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks: a beefy 24-bit theatrical mix and an equally arresting 16-bit Extended Cut contender. Thankfully though, neither one requires a lengthy defense. To the contrary, both audio presentations are primed to drop jaws, bruise sternums, and engage even the most detached audiophiles. Brawny LFE output grants gunshots realistic resonance, collisions unnerving weight, and explosions deafening power; immersive rear speaker activity transports listeners to every dank bar, crowded street corner, bustling bank, noisy stadium and wind-swept community garden the characters inhabit; and the soundfield is as enveloping as it is believable. And it only gets better from there. Whether whispered at a streetside cafe, snarled in a kingpin's flower shop, or screamed during a botched heist, dialogue remains clear and distinct, and never gets buried beneath the film's ensuing chaos. Voices are grounded perfectly in Affleck's bleak Boston cityscape, and directional effects are precise and convincing. No flashbang superficiality or sleight-of-hand here; just top-notch sound design and top-tier sonics. Simply put, Warner's lossless tracks represent the high point of The Town's BD release, and will easily satisfy anyone and everyone caught in their crossfire.
The Town Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In addition to the 125-minute theatrical cut and 153-minute extended version of the film, the Blu-ray edition of The Town includes a fairly extensive supplemental package that should easily satisfy fans of the film. It isn't blessed with any flashy Blu-ray bells or whistles, but it's both incredibly informative and surprisingly engaging; a rare feat for a commentary-focused release.
The Town Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Heat may be the superior cops-n-robbers genre pic and Gone Baby Gone may be the superior Affleck film, but The Town holds its own nonetheless. Its exceptional performances, mesmerizing heists, smartly penned dialogue, intriguing characters and gripping story make it one to watch this Oscar season, and one that's sure to grace many a Top Ten list this year. That being said, Warner's Blu-ray release is even better. Ignore whatever controversy may surround the disc; it offers two cuts of the film (a 125-minute theatrical cut and a 153-minute extended version), its video transfers are excellent (despite their low average bitrates), its DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are engrossing, and its supplemental package is simple but effective. I'm not one who recommends many blind-buys, but I have a feeling those who walk away disappointed with this one will be a part of a very small (but vocal) minority.
The Town: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with The Town (1 bundle)
The Town Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Town: Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray - October 31, 2011
Next year, Warner Home Entertainment will bring The Town: Ultimate Collector's Edition to Blu-ray. This release of writer/director Ben Affleck's critically acclaimed crime thriller features all-new bonus supplements as well as an extended cut of the film with ...
• The Town Blu-ray Announced - November 4, 2010
Warner Home Video has announced The Town for Blu-ray release on December 17, on a BD/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, exclusively featuring an all-new unrated extended cut with 23 additional minutes. This crime thriller, based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, ...
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