Be advised this review contains spoilers.
With the nomination of Jeremy Renner for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Town, a film that has had a somewhat mixed critical reception, I thought it was time to take another look at the film in general and Renner's performance in particular. On first viewing, I had found the it a fairly conventional rehash of familiar film tropes. It was essentially a version of the bank heist film with a misunderstood criminal who wanted to escape from his life of crime. And while some of the action pushed the limits of plausibility, the film managed enough gritty realism to create that willing suspension of disbelief that is essence of verisimilitude. In the end, it was a good enough film, not great, but not terrible.
A second viewing reinforced this first impression, but it also raised some interesting questions about what seems to be the film's confused attitude to criminals and their brutish behavior. The clearest illustration of this is in Ben Affleck's character, Doug MacRay. MacRay, a 'townie' who had had a shot at professional hockey and screwed it up, is the leader of his four-man heist gang. He is smart and he is careful. He comes from a broken home: his mother left; his father is in prison. He was raised in the kind of environment that encouraged criminality and demanded honor among thieves. It was a savage world in which brutality was the key to survival. All of this is made clear as part of the character's back story as well as reinforced by his behavior in the film, and provides some explanation, if not justification, for the way he is now living his life.
When the film begins, MacRay and his crew are engaged in a bank robbery. It is only the latest in a series of heists, which would seem to amount to something of a major crime wave. In the course of the robbery they take a female hostage, with whom, after some complications not only does he fall in love, but whose love seems to change him. What it is that attracts her, an educated bank manager to this obvious hoodlum, is left to the viewer's imagination. Of course there is no accounting for women's taste in men, and of course the fact that she, a 'nice' girl, loves him is another signifier of the characters worth, a worth, given his actions in the film, one has to wonder if he deserves.