Less than a decade after he went from marquee idol to laughingstock, Ben Affleck regained his mojo by reinventing himself as a director with Gone Baby Gone — and he followed it up by pulling triple duty in The Town, serving as its star and director and co-writing the screenplay (adapted from Chuck Hogan’s Prince of Thieves). Its theatrical run was greeted with some of the year’s best reviews, but how does The Town stack up on DVD and Blu-ray?
Synopsis: Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is an unrepentant criminal, the de facto leader of a group of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves in stealing what they want and getting out clean. With no real attachments, Doug never has to fear losing anyone close to him. But that all changed on the gang’s latest job, when they briefly took a hostage–bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Though they let her go unharmed, Claire is nervously aware that the robbers know her name…and where she lives. But she lets her guard down when she meets an unassuming and rather charming man named Doug…not realizing that he is the same man who only days earlier had terrorized her. The instant attraction between them gradually turns into a passionate romance that threatens to take them both down a dangerous, and potentially deadly, path.
Video: Presented in 2.4:1 with plenty of room to stretch on a 50GB disc, The Town isn’t perfect, but it comes impressively close; Boston has rarely looked more vibrant than it does in the exterior shots (which is saying something, since much of the film takes place in the seedier parts of the city), and details are highlighted with clean lines and rich, bright colors. Warners’ decision to stuff two complete versions of the movie onto one disc, rather than using seamless branching for viewers who want to watch the extended cut, is curious — but the picture really doesn’t suffer. Affleck is a stylish director, and The Town strikes a nice blend between more sedate, dialogue-driven scenes and pulse-pounding action, both of which are served well with the Blu-ray transfer.
Audio: Like the video transfer, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track has to cover a pretty broad spectrum — and it also acquits itself admirably, with clearly audible dialogue and impressively expansive sound effects during the action scenes (particularly during the climactic shootout, which gives Heat a run for its money in the cops ‘n’ robbers A/V workout department).
Special Features: As with most Warners titles, The Town comes in a two-disc pack, offering viewers their choice of Blu-ray, DVD, or digital copy; the Blu-ray lets you choose between watching the theatrical (125 minutes) or the extended (153-minute) cut, with an entertaining (albeit rather stuffy) Affleck audio commentary for both versions of the film. The supplements are rounded out with a half-hour collection of featurettes, titled “Ben’s Boston,” that give you a look behind the scenes. Don’t expect to see anything amazing here — if you’ve ever watched one of these, you know they tend to be about as illuminating as a segment of Entertainment Tonight – but they’re well-done as far as these things go.
Bottom Line: The Town is a fine film, and it’s certainly nice to see Affleck moving away from the paycheck dreck that threatened to derail his career — but watching it, I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the old Chris Rock routine about people who brag about doing things they’re supposed to do. Yeah, Ben Affleck, you’ve given us an entertaining variation on the unbelievably tired robber-with-a-heart-of-gold heist flick. Whatchoo want, a cookie? As gripping as The Town can be — and it’s plenty gripping, especially when Jeremy Renner is on the screen — it evaporates as soon as the closing credits start to roll. You’ve seen this story before, and you’ve probably seen it told more skillfully; the movie comes alarmingly close to killing itself trying to get you to identify with Affleck’s character, right down to a scene with his love interest (played by a terrific Rebecca Hall) that threatens to approach “animal crackers in Armageddon” levels of clunky cheesiness.
All of which is to say that The Town is a solid heist flick, and one of the better mainstream action thrillers (or even dramas) to come out in 2010, but that all the critical praise and awards hype is more than a little overblown. Like Cyrus, Get Low, and a handful of others, this is a movie that does what it’s supposed to do, no more, no less. Temper your expectations accordingly, and don’t expect to find yourself thinking about these characters after they leave the screen.