Movie Talk: “The Town” Speaks to Society and Politics

“The Town” is a very good movie, and while this is not a political movie at all, it perhaps does cause one to allude to political themes once they walk out of the theater.

All the ingredients that make up a good film are here: good acting, a decent plot, tense moments, and thrilling action sequences. But it is director Ben Affleck’s ability to utilize the locations, which in this case are his home turf the Boston area, that causes it to be better than most of the action thrillers we see today.

The only other comment I have about the film, without giving too much away, is that it’s quite similar to Michael Mann’s “Heat”, viewed by most as one of the best heist / robbery thrillers of all time.

But alas, what really got my brain to work after seeing “The Town” is not really the story, or the acting, or how beautiful the female leads are. It’s about the political / social issues that were never ever discussed on screen but audience can quickly relate to.

First is the notion of glorifying villains or portraying ‘bad guys’ as good. In the case of “The Town”, the only caricature we have of the bank robbers is that they are blue collar average joes who happen to be very good at one thing: working as a team to rob banks and trucks for money. No, they do not hesitate to use their firearms against those who get in their way, but we as an audience never got a sense of them as evildoers; Affleck never wanted us to hate these characters, not even the one played by Jeremy Renner.

To this aspect, I draw a parallel between this film and “Public Enemies”, another Michael Mann film that stars Johnny Depp about the 1930s bank robber John Dillinger. We have, in that movie as well, the main character being a bank robber, an act we usually think of as a criminal wrongdoing that is frowned upon by society. But in both films, the impression that is presented to us by the filmmakers is that Dillinger, and the fictional Doug MacRay, played by Affleck himself, have a gift, and believe that they were more or less justified in robbing banks of their money, for whatever reasons they have in addition to personal gain.

These characters are created (the Dillinger in the film is of course quite different from the one in real life) amidst a financial crisis in the United States, where many political commentators and members of the public have painted the Wall Street ‘fat cats’ as public enemy No. 1, which brings me to my next point.

Note that these fictional characters are doing quite realistic things in the films; bank robberies do happen. If they succeed, the takes are usually a few hundred thousand, sometimes a million or two if it’s a big score. They know full well that every time they execute a bank robbery, they are putting their lives on the line; if discovered, they will become notorious criminals hunted all over the city (or country) by the law. The same could be said of real-life bank-robbers, to some extent.

If these guys risk their lives for a few hundred grand every time they go to ‘work’, what does that make the fat cats at Wall Street, who make hundreds of millions of dollars with literally a click of a mouse or a phone call?

It might seem like I’m equating Wall Street bankers with Bank Robbers, and Michael Moore has done something very similar to it in his most recent film, “Capitalism, a Love Story.” But in all honesty, the only difference I see between carrying assault rifles and snatching stacks of cash from armored trucks and safety vaults, and making billions in ‘invisible’ money by gambling with impossibly-complicated formulas such as derivatives and credit-default-swaps, that is that one is forbidden by law while the other thrives within a vacuum of a regulation-free financial market.

How about the casualties of each activity? Yes, guns kill people. But how does that stack up against directly and indirectly causing millions of Americans to lose their homes and declare bankruptcy? Or have their financial gambles backfire and require the federal government to bail them out with a ridiculously low amount of interest, then handing out billions in bonuses to the top executives? They robbed the American people, millions of them. But we are not seeing their faces on “America’s Most Wanted”, or see a shred of effective regulation put in place to hold these guys accountable.

Am I saying we should leave the bank robbers be and claim “The Town” as a film that glorifies bank robbers? Of course not. But from such an entertaining and non-political film as this one, we can derive from it some food for thought on the skewed view we have towards certain groups of people in society, be they from Charlestown, the government, or Wall Street.

Legendary Pictures presents “The Town” was released in the United States on September 17, 2010.
Directed by Ben Affleck
Screenplay by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively
Based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Author: dky1

A graduated (but still caffeinated) student. I write mostly politics and movie reviews in the Third Cup blog, and some fiction, short stories, and gaming journal on the Loner's Diaries blog.

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