The Town comes to US Region Free Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition rendition in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. Firstly I’d like to say that it is generally a very good presentation – I don’t think the movie was ever supposed to look slick and stylish, with a glossy blockbuster feel, so my personal opinion is that this video presentation shows it pretty-much exactly as it was supposed to be: a sombre palette dominated by a blue tint, and heavy contrast, with a sheen of grain to give it that nice, gritty edge (all as Affleck personally intended). This is the reality of what you will see.
Unfortunately, word has gotten out about how the movie’s single Blu-ray disc houses both cuts separately (rather than seamlessly) and, as a result, both have remarkably low-bitrate encodes. Now with 20:20 hindsight it is possible to go back and pick out the flaws in the presentations – mostly black crush, with a hint of artefacting as well, both largely negligible – but the furore this has kicked up amidst videophiles is wholly unnecessary and unjustified. Seriously, if you didn’t know about the low bitrate, you would honestly regard this as a perfectly decent video presentation for such a bleak, low-key crime drama. It’s only because you know about the bitrate that you begin to question what you’re seeing. The reality is that you get exceptional detail, for the most part, with little softness, no edge enhancement; decent representation of the fairly muted Boston colour tones, realistic skin tones and deep black levels. The reality is that there is actually very little to quibble about here, and certainly nothing that you wouldn’t excuse plenty of other recent film presentations. Sure, it’s a shame that they didn’t splash out for separate discs for each cut (or even seamlessly integrate the two) but it certainly shouldn’t put you off picking up this disc.
On the aural front, Warner have opted for a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for the Theatrical Cut, and a 16-bit mix for the Extended Edition. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference, both are superb, noisy but nuanced offerings that really bring out the best in the movies – whichever cut you choose to watch. Dialogue comes across generally clearly, whether shouted or whispered, largely dominating the fronts and centre channels where appropriate, but some of the heavy Boston accents lead to muffled, mumbling – particularly from Blake Lively’s character. The effects range from the more subtle, ambient noises to the louder, more boisterous stuff, with the two main shootouts creating an excellent dynamic array within your living room, as if you are really in the midst of a gunfight. The rifle shots ring out, the shotgun blasts hammer home, and cars screech and crash around with painful intensity. Surrounds get a real workout, and the LFE is fully integrated into the bargain. The score makes for a suitable accompaniment, even if it isn’t particularly memorable. On the other hand, it leaves the rest of the track alone long enough for things to really shine. All in all, these are both demo-quality aural presentations, and I challenge you to tell them apart.
First up we get an Audio Commentary by the Director/Star Ben Affleck, available on both the Theatrical and the Extended Cut. It’s the same Commentary on both versions so, obviously, the longer cut gives you further information – mostly about the various changes that were made, both big and small. Affleck brings us a very interesting offering, talking about the material taken for the book, the bits changed around, the inspiration he got from other movies, the improvisational work, interesting background observations on the characters (Doug’s ex-girlfriend is supposed to have parallels to his mother, reflected in his dad’s comments in prison) and relating ideas back to real-life bank robbery incidents. It’s a great Commentary, well worth listening to, and possibly one of the most enjoyable, genuinely interesting Commentaries that I have heard in quite a while.
There’s also a Ben’s Boston Focus Points option, which allows you to watch several Behind the Scenes Featurettes which are peppered throughout the lengthy movie. Honestly, you’re better off just accessing them from the menu rather than selecting them as prompted during the movie, and this is far from an all-encompassing Maximum Movie Mode offering. Still, we get decent interview snippets from the main cast and crew and some nice behind the scenes footage of scenes being shot.
It’s impossible to watch The Town without being reminded of several (far superior) crime thrillers like Heat and The Usual Suspects. It often feels like a collection of all of the best bits from these films, but actually, it is quite a professionally-crafted, exciting and authentic crime saga in its own right, focussing as much on character development as it does on staging tense action sequences. Ben Affleck acquits himself well both behind the camera and also in front of it, possibly providing one of his best performances to date, and bringing with him a cast of comparatively little-known (i.e. mostly not A-list) but equally great supporting actors. The Town may never reach the heights of a classic genre entry but it still stands above the crowd as a highly competent, and thoroughly engaging piece.
On Region Free US Blu-ray we get decent enough video and demo-quality audio, as well as a great Affleck Commentary and some Behind the Scenes material. We also get access to both the Theatrical Version and the significantly longer Extended Cut which, whilst entertaining for fans of the film, is ultimately not as good as the more streamlined Theatrical Cut. It’s a good package for fans to pick up, and newcomers should definitely consider it worthy of a rental to see if you want to add it to your collection. If you loved Heat, don’t be too put off by all the references – The Town actually succeeds quite well as a result of many of them. Recommended.
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