Ben Affleck, director, co-writer, and star of The Town, says the new Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray version of the film is the cut he wanted to make. In a printed message from Affleck enclosed in the set, he talks about sacrifices that had to be made when editing the theatrical version. Affleck wasn’t satisfied with the first extended cut, previously released on Blu-ray. He is very passionate about this new alternate extended cut, considering it to be superior to the original. He does stress that the new version won’t change the minds of anyone who didn’t like the movie in the first place, but believes it’s something fans of the film should enjoy. The cut exclusive to the Ultimate Collector’s Edition includes many of the same additional scenes as the previous version, but offers a never before seen alternate ending. While the previous extended cut offered interesting insight into the characters, it also brought out some of the film’s weaknesses. All three cuts of the film are included in the new box set.
The Town stars Affleck as Doug MacRay, a professional thief who pulls off heists with his best friend James “Jem” Loughlin (Jeremy Renner) and their group of low-life friends. MacRay comes from a troubled background. His mom took off when he was six and his dad (Chris Cooper) is serving multiple life sentences for murdering two armored car guards. After being taken in by Jem’s family, he ends up on the same path as his dad. While Jem seems all too happy to make a living by robbing banks, MacRay is conflicted. At one time he could have been a professional hockey player and gotten out of Charlestown. But after his hockey dreams fell apart, he found himself working for the same low-level organized crime boss, Fergus Colm (Pete Postlethwaite), his father had worked for.
Charlestown, Massachusetts, is a one square mile section of Boston that happens to be populated by a high number of bank robbers. In an effort to create a realistic feel, Affleck takes inspiration from real life heists that took place in the area. The Skeletor masks worn by the band of bank robbers in the opening scene were taken right out of real FBI files, according to Affleck. This opening scene sets up the uneasy relationship MacRay has with Jem and with his life as a professional bank robber. While MacRay comforts a nervous female employee as she opens the vault, the hot-headed Jem bashes the head of the bank manager with the butt of his rifle. He then decides they need to take the female employee as a hostage while fleeing the bank. While they ultimately let the hostage go, they are nervous she will figure out who they are. Fortunately for them, she was blind-folded and never saw them without their masks.
The hostage turns out to be Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the bank’s assistant manager. MacRay follows her in an effort to see if she knows anything about them, soon developing a romantic interest in her. Not knowing who he really is, she agrees to go out with him. The film centers on MacRay’s duplicity both to Clare and Jem. With Claire he finds some of the life he has been seeking. She represents a quiet normalcy he has never experienced. He longs to leave Charlestown behind, taking Claire with him. His loyalty and his ties to Fergus Colm prevent him from doing so. Jem does not know or want anything other than the life he has. MacRay goes along with Jem thinking each heist will be his last. In the meantime Claire is constantly questioned by FBI agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm) who is determined to pin MacRay for his crimes.
What’s best about The Town is the gritty realism Affleck achieves. The actors are so immersed in their roles it seems as though they have spent their lives in Charlestown. In truth, some of them have. Affleck has peppered the supporting cast with Boston and Charlestown natives. Even those not from the area blend in quite well. Renner in particular is very convincing as the loose cannon who could jeopardize everything. The character is actually a bit of a cliché. Affleck compares the character to Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, but there are countless hotheads like Jem throughout crime movie history.
Jem is the type of guy most of us wouldn’t want to know. He seems as though he could snap at any minute and would take no greater pleasure than bashing in the face of someone who crosses him. Even when attempting charm, Jem’s true nature bubbles just under the surface. Despite the predictability of the character, Renner manages to inject his performance with a brutal honesty. Unlike MacRay, Jem is not conflicted about his life. He knows his place in life, and he unflinchingly accepts it. In a scene where MacRay tells Jem he wants out of the life, it is Jem who feels betrayed. Renner allows a genuine hurt to seep through the bravado.
The extended cut fleshes out MacRay’s own perception of the consequences of his actions. He had believed he and his friends committed their crimes without really hurting anyone. They just wanted the money. His relationship with Claire shows him another side of life. It shows him the side that is affected by the crimes perpetrated on them. The cut also explores the idea of karma. Doug tells Claire that bad people do bad things and bad things happen to them. He’s not going to cry over it. He doesn’t seem aware at the time of what karma may have in store for him.
The downside of the extended cut is the more meandering pace slows the film down quite a bit, sometimes losing focus. The alternate ending will be apparent to those who have already seen either previous cut. I found myself somewhat dissatisfied with the original as well as the alternate ending, for different reasons. Without spoiling anything, the alternate ending seems to come out of nowhere. Affleck admits in the special features that he would have built up to it better, but he knew all along it would be cut. If I had to choose, I would probably go with the theatrical ending as my preferred version. There is an element in both endings that doesn’t ring true to me. Overall, I find The Town to be a very good, though not quite great, movie. The performances and exciting heist sequences make it worth repeated viewings.
The Blu-ray is presented in a 1080p MPEG-4 transfer. The picture quality is excellent for all versions contained in the set. The grim look of the town was perfectly captured in the original cinematography, and the Blu-ray offers that vision in vivid detail. The clarity and definition of the picture heightens the stark reality of the film. Though the palette is heavy on dark blues and browns, the colors are richly produced. The overhead shots of the city stand out, with vehicles and people visibly sharp even at a distance. The extended footage on both longer cuts blends right in, matching the visual quality of the theatrical cut. The sound is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This film features a lot of action and gunfire, coupled with quieter conversation scenes. All come across quite well. The dialogue is clear even in the most chaotic of action scenes. The surrounds effectively create the ambience of crowded bars, Fenway Park, and city streets. The climatic shoot-out really places the viewer at the center of the fury, with bullets and explosions coming from all directions. Overall, the presentation is excellent.
This box set offers the complete package for fans of The Town. It contains all three versions of the film, along with a DVD copy and UltraViolet digital version of the new extended cut. The box set comes with some memorabilia including a 48 page photo book, the aforementioned letter from Affleck, poster-sized map of Charlestown, film prop reproductions, a rub-on tattoo replica of the one worn by Jem, a Vericom employee file like the one obtained by the FBI in the film, four mug shot cards, and a 15 page FBI report.
The special features included on the discs are not extensive, but they are interesting. One is a 30 minute making of “Director’s Journey” where Affleck discusses acting in and directing the film. The other main feature is “Ben’s Boston Focus Points.” This is six featurettes about different locations and aspects to the film. These feature interviews with Renner, Hamm, Hall, Blakely Lively, and other cast and crew on the making of the movie. These featurettes can either be watched on their own, or via an icon that pops up during the original version of the film. All three versions of the film feature commentary from Affleck. They are all basically the same track, extended to accommodate the additional material found in the longer cuts.