The Town Directed by Ben Affleck (Warner Brothers, 2010)
During the Depression Warner Brothers earned much of its weekly paycheck with gangster movies in which Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Edward G. Robinson played fast-talking, hard-drinking tough guys who liked to backtalk cops, punch out foes, slap girlfriends, and rob banks with machine guns and fast cars.
With a lingering recession and unemployment stuck at about 10 percent, Ben Affleck's new Warner Brothers movie about a crew of Boston bank robbers resurrects the working class urban toughs Cagney and friends used to play. Doug McCrae (Affleck) heads a no-nonsense crew of blue collar "townies" who take down banks and armored trucks with a mixture of firepower and cunning that overwhelms guards, managers, and police-and leaves no fingerprints, DNA, or witnesses in their wake, that is, until now.
But Affleck's gangster is no Jimmy Cagney. McCrae holds up banks like a pro and is ready to hand out a serious beating, but he also sneaks off to 12-step meetings, mourns the mother who abandoned him at age 6, and has a soft spot for a pretty bank manager who saw his partner's tattoo. He is a hard man who has done plenty of bad things, yet he clings to a dream of escape and redemption that puzzles and infuriates his colleagues, saddens and amuses his imprisoned father, and leaves his girlfriend in shock.
Affleck's gangster movie is a heist caper that asks whether anyone so mired in a culture of crime and violence can-or should-be allowed to escape destruction. Gangster movies have always had their own morality: Cagney and friends nearly always ended up bleeding in the gutter or strapped to the electric chair, so Affleck's fantasy of escape seems like folly.
But at least this small and occasionally brisk (if violent) film raises a serious question about the limits of forgiveness and redemption, asking whether a bad man might be allowed to get away from the wrath of judgment.