There are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year. And a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston, called Charlestown, has produced more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere in the U.S. One of them is Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), but he is not cut from the same cloth as his fellow thieves. Unlike them, Doug had a chance at success, a chance to escape following in his father's criminal footsteps. Instead he became the leader of a crew of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves on taking what they want and getting out clean. The only family Doug has are his partners in crime, especially Jem (Jeremy Renner), who, despite his dangerous, hair-trigger temper, is the closest thing Doug ever had to a brother. However, everything changed on the gang's last job when Jem briefly took a hostage: bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). When they discover she lives in Charlestown, Jem gets nervous and wants to check out what she might have seen. Knowing what Jem is capable of, Doug takes charge. He seeks out Claire, who has no idea that their encounter is not by chance or that this charming stranger is one of the men who terrorized her only days before. As his relationship with Claire deepens into a passionate romance, Doug wants out of this life and the town. But with the Feds, led by Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), closing in and Jem questioning his loyalty, Doug realizes that getting out will not be easy and, worse, may put Claire in the line of fire. Any choices he once had have boiled down to one: betray his friends or lose the woman he loves.
Say what you will about Ben Affleck's often hit-or-miss abilities as an actor, there's no doubting that he's a quite skilled director, and in 'The Town', the follow-up to his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, Affleck proves that his first movie was no fluke. While the story here may not be particularly original (it's another heist movie), the action, performances, and direction are all above par.
The movie, which is set in the Bostonian suburb of Charlestown (not all that far from the Cambridge area where Affleck grew up), opens with a title card informing viewers that Charleston has more bank robberies per capita than any other place in the world. While that "fact" seems a little suspicious to me, it does set the movie's premise up pretty well – a place in America where crime is less of a choice and more a way of life for young men.
Affleck stars as Doug McRay, who we first see (or hear, since he's wearing a mask) joining his friends/crime associates in a bank robbery. Doug's closest friend is James "Jem" Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), who also happens to be his step-brother, as Jem's family took in Doug after his father was sent off to prison (his mother being already deceased – something we learn more about in the course of the film). During the robbery, Jem decides to take one of the bank tellers, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage. They let her go unharmed, but when Jem finds out she lives in the same neighborhood he does, he begins to worry about her ID'ing them all.
Doug decides that he's going to get close to Claire to see how much she's told authorities (the FBI's lead investigator is played by Jon Hamm, and – honestly – is the kind of "good guy" that is pretty easy to root against) and it isn't long before Doug starts falling for her. Of course, Claire doesn't have a clue that he's the one behind the bank robbery. Eventually, Doug makes the decision that he wants to leave his criminal life and build a new one with Claire, but there are complications. Not only does he have an ex (Blake Lively) that doesn't want to let go, but the area's local crime kingpin, Fergie Colm (played by the late, great character actor Pete Postlehwaite) wants Doug to pull off one last heist. You don't have to be a fan of these types of movies to figure out that things don't go exactly as planned.
And that's probably the most legitimate complaint I have about 'The Town' – for all its solid acting, impressive direction, and engaging story...we've really seen this all before. This is far from the first movie about a criminal who wants to leave his old life behind, nor about bank robbers. Jeremy Renner's character is perhaps the most clichéd of all: the hothead whose poor decisions during the crimes lead to things going bad. Yet, when it comes to films, I'd much rather see an unoriginal story well told than a new idea poorly executed, and that's what we get with 'The Town': something familiar, yet still very entertaining.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Town' arrives on Ultra HD 4K in a black eco-friendly keepcase, which houses both the 4K and 50GB Blu-ray discs, along with an insert for an UltraViolet version of the movie (the theatrical cut only). A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slides overtop. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Ultra HD disc, whose main menu is a shot of the actors in the movie (the same image that appears on the top half of the box cover) with menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen. The Blu-ray, however, is front-loaded with an anti-tobacco ad and a Blu-ray promotional ad.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free, and Ultra HD discs have no region coding.
'The Town' was shot on film using both the Arriflex 235 and Arriflex 435, as well as Panavision Panaflex equipment (according to IMDB). It is presented in 4K at the 2.40:1 aspect ratio and is yet another 4K up-convert from a 2K digital intermediate.
As is the case with many Ultra HD releases, the biggest and most noticeable advantage of the 4K version over the 1080p Blu-ray is the boost of color and contrast provided by HDR (high dynamic range). There are a lot of reds in the movie (including a third act sequence at Fenway Park), and that always seems to be the color that pops out the most to my eyes when watching a 4K disc with HDR. Although film grain is evident throughout, it's thankfully not too obtrusive (I've seen a few 4K titles where the grain was enhanced so much it became a distraction), and the movie still retains very much of a film-like look to it.
While there's not a huge jump in detail over the 1080p version, it is noticeable in wider shots and particularly in overhead "helicopter" establishing shots of the Boston/Charlestown area. Black levels are pretty strong here, and although the movie doesn't contain a huge number of darker scenes, the strong levels do come in handy during some of the film's more dimly-lit moments.
So, yes, there is a visible improvement in 4K here. Whether it's worth the upgrade or not will depend largely on one's love for the movie itself and, of course, if you already own any of the prior Blu-ray releases. First-time buyers with 4K set-ups (or those future-proofing their collections) should certainly strongly consider picking up this version.
Note: The 4K disc in this set contains only the theatrical cut of the movie, while the Blu-ray contains both the extended cut and the theatrical version.
The featured audio track here is a 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is the same audio already present on the prior Blu-ray versions (including the Blu-ray in this set). That said, it's still an impressive listen, with the surrounds being used early and often – particularly coming to life during the movie's several heist scenes, which include gunshots, car crashes, explosions, and helicopters swooping by. Dialogue is primarily front and center throughout, but it's clear and properly mixed with the rest of the audio. This is a track that comes across as very immersive and enveloping, with nothing in terms of glitches or problems. It's not quite reference-quality, but it's pretty close.
In addition to the 5.1 lossless English track, the 4K disc also includes an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track, along with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Czech, Polish, Thai, and Turkish. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), Portuguese (Portugal), Portuguese (Brazilian), German SDH, Italian SDH, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Arabic, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Finnish, Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, Hebrew, Thai, Turkish, and Korean. However, the Blu-ray disc in this set only features the 5.1 English DTS-HD track (the same 24-bit track that's on the 4K disc for the theatrical version, and a 16-bit track for the Extended cut), with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Love him or hate him, there's no denying that Ben Affleck is a skilled director, and 'The Town' firmly helped establish him as one of Hollywood's best up and comers. While the movie isn't necessarily a cinematic original, it's well-put-together and shines a bit brighter in this 4K release. For those who don't already own a version on Blu-ray, this Ultra HD falls firmly into the "Recommended" category.