It’s the character of The Town that gives it life and sympathy. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is part of a master ring of bank thieves, despicable as a person even if he never hurts anybody. The Town does not glorify him or elevate him to hero status. It does very much the opposite: it humanizes him.
Doug begins to fall for one of the women he robbed, bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), an initial fling that is more about extracting information than it is romance. When that turns into something more, Doug speaks of his childhood, telling Claire about the morning his mother left when he was only six. He remembers every detail from what time it was, what he was wearing, the amount of smoke in the ashtray, to the exact words spoken to him by his father. It’s evidence into how much that affected him, gives a basis for what he does, and almost makes the audience understand.
It’s a rare bit of compassion for a movie like this, generally a genre more focused on generating drama at the end after thousands of bullets have been unloaded. The Town has that too though, an enthralling car chase through the streets of Boston and lively shoot-out inside Fenway park. The heists themselves, whether that initial bank robbery or the armored car haul, are edited with a frenzy. It’s calculated though, not focused on those rapid edits, but willing to let the camera sit and work where needed to build up the intensity.
For all of that work building up Doug, the rest of the crew is almost forgotten. The Town is purely a two-character drama, the side players stock FBI agents and partners in crime with minimal weight. There should be a connection between Doug and James (Jeremy Renner), but it feels empty. The extended cut, with about 30 minutes extra to work with, does little to elevate any of these people. Renner almost seems typecast, asked by Doug to go out to hurt some unspecified people. Renner replies with, “Who’s car we gonna take?” He’s the same loose cannon he was before in Hurt Locker.
At the height if its success, The Town is a gorgeous thriller, well shot, produced, and acted. It’s hard to fault it for its technical aspects, while the script tends to languish behind. Doug is a fantastic character, his life spilled out onto the screen. It gives him purpose. His partners are just criminals.
Warner switches things up, ditching their usual choice of codec (VC-1) for an AVC effort. There are a lot of positives to go along with that, discussion of the specific qualities of the codecs better left for another time, but it’s hard to argue with the end result. That filtered, smooth, soft look has dominated so many of the studio’s modern releases is completely absent here. The minute layer of softness that creeps into the frame is resoundingly minor, and it’s more related to focal issues than the encode.
This is a lush, striking transfer. The numerous aerials of the city are simply reference, dotted with defined bricks, architectural details, and landmarks that are fully identifiable no matter how high the camera placement may be. There’s not an ounce of flicker or other distraction either. On ground level, facial detail excels, the generally brightly lit environments providing ample opportunity for texture to shine. Close-ups are outstanding, and the mid-range is superb. Few scenes, if any really, lose that sense of tightly calibrated definition.
Black levels are rich, if a bit rough on the shadow detail at times. Coloring leads to flesh tones that carry the light of their environments, at times elevated warmly, and occasionally cool. The vivid reds that dot much of the city are extravagant without bleeding. Scenes inside a garden are are alive with lush greenery, tinted warm to accentuate the nature of the scenes that take place there.
Where this encode loses the battle is grain and noise. Instead of offering both cuts of the movie via seamless branching, the studio crammed both versions onto the same disc as separate versions. That’s four and a half hours of the movie, two uncompressed audio tracks, commentaries, and bonus features all within less than 40GB of data. The end result is ungainly grain spikes that the encode simply cannot resolve without breaking down, chroma noise littering the walls inside the interrogation cells, and any elevation of the natural grain structure rendered more evident by the lack of breathing room. It’s such a shame, because The Town could excel like few other live action discs if only it had been presented properly.
The early moments of this DTS-HD mix are rather mundane, the lackluster city ambiance only dotted by the occasional stereo split from passing cars. Everything about is technically fine, a bit harsh in terms of dialogue around 1:05:30 (theatrical) as Affleck chats inside the apartment, but perfectly sufficient otherwise.
When it comes alive is just before the hour mark in a fantastic chase sequence, cars passing through soundfield with aggressiveness, panning in all directions with believable movement. As it slows down, glass begins shattering from gunfire which also begins to hit the sub. A police PA echos effectively into the surrounds creating a genuine wrap-around effect.
It’s the final shoot-out that stands as the showcase piece here, the robbers inside Fenway, the cops both outside and in. The confined space creates another enveloping echo, while assault rifles pop into the sub. Some flash grenades generate a tremendous, loud, booming shot of low-end work. The high-end is crisp and clean, while the mix is flawless. There’s a lot going on, and despite this, dialogue, the score, and the action remain in a balanced volume state.
A pop-up feature titled Ben’s Boston has around 30-minutes of focal points, which also can be viewed outside of the film. Technically, there are two commentaries, with Affleck going in alone on the theatrical and extended cuts, with the latter just adding in additional content where needed. Regardless, they’re great talks. The ability to see what scenes have been added to the longer cut is included via a small icon while watching, something not every studio has clued in to even though it should be standard. General Warner BD-Live access remains.