The Town

Crime Drama. The story of a bank robber in Charlestown NY who discovers love and tries to get out of the world of crime and violence he has succumbed to. The movie hook is that Charlestown is a small community in New York that has more bank robbers per square mile than anywhere in the US. The idea here is also family generations and the sins of the father. What does it cost to get out? What does it take to change your life? It’s a pretty formulaic story: Boy meets girl. Boy is a criminal so he loses girl. Boy tries to get out of crime in order to get girl.

The moral values in this film are confused. While Ben Affleck’s character Doug shows a moral soft spot – he doesn’t kill people, he keeps his insane step-brother in line, and he falls in love with the desire to get out, he protects his innocent girlfriend from violence – he ultimately does not do the right thing: accept justice and help the FBI. In this case, the FBI lead, Agent Frawley, is the pretty boy from Mad Men and while he is not the typical diabolical evil Lawman so often portrayed in these kind of movies, he is played without any depth. There is one moment meant to make this FBI guy ultimately cruel: When he brings Doug in and tells him that if he doesn’t help the FBI there will be a time when he will want to, and it will be too late and Lawley will tell him, with relish, to “go F— yourself.” Needless to say, when Doug gets away, he leaves a note for agent Lawley, telling him to “Go F— yourself,” thus winning the moral duel. Doug thinks that helping to turn in other criminals and their higher ups for their crimes is “ratting,” so instead he tries to run away with his new love. Only problem is the bad guys won’t let him. So he does this one last robbery.

The moral premise of the film is entirely unsatisfying storytelling because the audience is encouraged to root for a criminal to get away crimes and then not paying for his crimes. Doug never gives himself up to the law, never accepts his moral responsibility and never pays for his crimes. He thinks that feeling sorry, “getting out” and starting over, without paying for his crimes, is enough. One of the last lines of the film is Doug saying, “Even when you try to change, there are still consequences for the things you’ve done in life.” True enough, yet a cop-out, because this humanistic morality of a criminal feeling sorry and losing love seems to be all the payment required by these storytellers.

Doug does lose his chance at love because he runs away to Florida and apparently can’t have her. He gives her the bank robbery money to help out with a boy’s club. As if doing good with stolen money is redemption rather than returning it to the victims he violated. He tells a clerk while robbing the bank to not worry cause it’s “not her money.” No, it’s just thousands of other innocent people’s hard earned money. These are all manipulative tactics of trying to avoid the guilt from his actions, but they are not justice. Guilt would have been satisfied, justice appeased, had Doug accepted the penalty for his crime, helped the FBI to attain justice and accepted the rejection from evil criminals for doing so, or at least died fighting against his old life. So there certainly are morally satisfying conclusions that would have redeemed Doug. The filmmakers just didn’t choose them.