Deconstructing Dialogue: The Town (part 1)

To kick off 2014 year of analyzing dialogue we’re studying this scene from The Town.

(Screenplay by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard.)

Read a PDF version of the scene here:

You can also read a studio version of the screenplay here.

NB. this script is different from the final cut that made the movie – but that’s another study.

The first aspect of the scene I’d like to look at is the power play between Doug (Ben Affleck) and Jem (Jeremy Renner).

(Analysis in brackets and in bold).

EXT. PROJECTS – PARKING LOT/CEMETERY – DAY

Jem waits for Doug by the ancient cemetery near the projects. Doug approaches him.

DOUG
Something wrong with the apartment?

(So, from Doug’s question we know that Doug doesn’t know why Jem has arranged the meeting. Jem has called Doug, and Doug doesn’t yet know why. So, we might say that at the beginning of the scene Jem holds the power. )

JEM
No. The Florist.
DOUG
The Florist what?
JEM
Came through.
DOUG
Oh, Jesus Christ.

(If you’ve yet to see the film The Florist is The Town’s ‘godfather’ gangster, played by Pete Postlethwaite, a fearsome Northern Irishman, whose ability to cut flowers symbolizes his trademark ability and pleasure to ‘cut your fucking balls off.’ A lovely rose he is not. Doug obviously doesn’t want to do the job, whatever it is. Power with Doug.)

JEM
It’s large, Dougie. It’s large.

(Jem tries to tempt Doug with money. But Doug has enough money. Jem’s bait doesn’t work. The power is still with Doug.)

DOUG
We’re smoked. Punt it.

(‘We’re smoked’ means Doug knows the FBI are watching them. Power: Doug.)

JEM
Who else is gonna buy it?
DOUG
You should have thought about that before you fucking kept breaking the guy out for forty dimes after every job.
JEM
There’s an expectation rate.
DOUG
I’ll correct his expectation.
JEM
Oh, you will?

(No one makes demands or disobeys The Florist. Jem tries to intimidate Doug. It doesn’t work. Power : Doug. It’s a one way fight so far.)

DOUG
Pick up an extra guy or go with three guys or… fucking be smart and boot it.
JEM
Oh so you’re not going?
DOUG
No.
JEM
Why is that?
DOUG
Because we got a ton of fucking heat on us for one thing.
JEM
We’ll put a move on them, right? We’ve done it a hundred fucking times before.
DOUG
You know what, forget it. Do what you wanna do. I’m done.

(Read a separate post on the difference between the studio script and the dialogue in this scene here.)

JEM
What?
DOUG
I’m done.
JEM
You’re done?
DOUG
What does it sound like?
JEM
What’s that.. what’s that mean?
DOUG
What the fuck do you think it means?
JEM
What does that mean you’re done? It sounds like a bunch of fucking bullshit.

(Why the confusion? Doug doesn’t want to do the job. More than that, he wants out completely. Why isn’t Jem just letting it go? And why is Doug even entertaining him? Why not just tell him to fuck off? If he’s done, he’s done. There must be more to it. There must be more to this relationship. Something deeper. Doug seems to be struggling to hold onto his power. OK, he’s holding his corner, but why take the questioning? In a previous scene with the Feds Doug runs rings around them with their questioning. What’s going on? The power balance is shifting. Power: shared.)

DOUG
Let me put it to you this way, I’m putting this whole fucking town in my rear view.

(OK, so there we have it. Doug states his outward goal – a reflection of the visual we get earlier of Doug watching the plane in the sky as he waits for his girl outside the cafe. Power, back with Doug.)

JEM
There’s people I can’t let you walk away from.
DOUG
What? Who?

(Confusion again. What is Jem talking about? Power unbalanced again.)

JEM
Come on!

(Doug realizes Jem is talking about his (Jem’s) sister, Krista and her young daughter, Shyne. So, finally, we get to what this meeting is really about – the subtext rises, and it’s not work, but family. Jem grabs the power.)

DOUG
Are you serious, Jimmy? She’s not my kid….
(beat)
Cut it out. All you give a fuck about is coke and Xbox and now you’re trying to play it off you care about Shyne, come on now!

(Doug ridicules him. Assassinates his character. Coke and Xbox. Doug uses humor to disparage him, snatching the power back easily.)

JEM
You know what your fucking problem is?

(Come on, Jem, fight back.)

DOUG
What?
JEM
You think you’re better than people.
DOUG
Uh-huh.
JEM
Mister fucking clean, mister fucking goddamn high and mighty, right?

(Some info on Doug. He’s clean. He was an addict. He goes to AA / NA meetings. We know that. But is Jem right? Does Doug think he’s better than the other people on the ‘projects’? Remember his back-story, he was drafted as a pro hockey player, got into trouble for fighting other guys on his team, and lost his opportunity. Jem is really pressing Doug’s buttons here. In Truby terms, this could be Doug’s moral flaw. Does he think he’s ‘better’ than other people? Or does he simply believe he’s capable of a better life than the one he’s living, the one he’s been born into? Who’s holding the power here? I would say it’s definitely not Doug, but possibly shared, because we’re not sure if Doug’s ‘uh-hu’ and his agreeing with and repeating what Jem accuses him of is him being truthful, or him being sarcastic. Therefore – Power: shared.)

DOUG
Yeh, I’m better than all these people, you’re right. I’m better than anybody in this fucking project.
JEM
Yeah, that’s what you think, but you grew up right here. Same rules that I did.
DOUG
OK. What else?

Beat.

(Doug’s three little words here are very interesting. Doug now knows why Jem has called this meeting. He’s given him an earful about the job with The Florist, and he’s accused him of being self-righteous, proud, of seeing himself as ‘high and mighty.’ But Doug knows that’s not all. He knows this is all leading somewhere. When you watch the scene you’ll see a change of pace here. There’s a beat change. It’s as though Doug admits defeat, but really, to Doug, defending himself from Jem’s childish accusations just isn’t a battle worth fighting. Doug’s tired of the bullshit now. He’s had enough. He asks the direct question: What else?)

JEM
Who the fuck’s the father?

(OK. Now we know what this is all about. Finally. His niece, his sister’s beautiful little girl – Shyne. Power: Jem)

DOUG
I know I’m not the father.
JEM
You were the one fucking her.
DOUG
Yeh, and I wasn’t the only one, brother, OK? She knew I knew I’m not the father and I have enough respect for her not to ask her. OK? ‘Cause I don’t think she knows. Alright? Now I don’t wanna shatter your illusions here, partner, but there aren’t enough free clinics here in Mattapan to find out who the father of that kid is…

(Doug snatches the power back easily again. Watch the acting here. Affleck’s doing all the talking, but you can feel Renner about to explode. He represses his rage, but it’s rising to the surface. Doug doesn’t back down. He’s got the power, and he goes in for the kill).

DOUG
And I don’t know who the fuck you think you are, either. You aren’t letting me or not letting me do shit. Alright?

(Exactly! Why does Jem feel he can ‘let Doug or not let Doug’ do anything? And why was Doug letting him act like his boss? Now we know, Doug doesn’t let anyone tell him what he can or can’t do. He lays down the law. Power: Doug).

DOUG

Here’s a little fucking cheat sheet for you. It’s never gonna be me and you and your sister and Shyne fucking playing house up there. Alright? You got it? Get that in your fucking head! I’m tired of your one way fucking bullshit. If you wanna see me again, come down and visit me in Florida.

(Jem’s lost this argument, this verbal argument, so he attacks with all he’s got left, his physical toughness. Affleck’s tough, too. But Jem pulls a pistol, and cracks Doug on the head with it. Physical power: Jem. Emotional power: Doug.)

Doug recovers.

He sits up, panting.

JEM
In the 302 the Feds have me dropping Brendan right here. But I got him back on Tibbetts… shot him right in the chest. I remember he looked at me…and, I don’t know who was more fucking surprised he wasn’t dead – him or me. We just fucking stood there a second waiting for some shit to happen, I don’t know what, but…then he started running. Fucking guy ran a 100 yards with a bullet in his heart…The fucking guy should have run track, y’know what I’m saying?

(So Jem has called this meeting exactly where he killed ‘Brendan’ whoever Brendan is.)

Jem laughs.

DOUG
I didn’t ask you to do that.
JEM
Yeh, well, you didn’t have to, Dougie, come on. They told me Brendan Leahey was coming down here to roll up on you with a glock 21 so I came over here, and I put him in the fucking ground. Did nine years for it. Now, you don’t gotta thank me, but you’re not walking away.

(Jem wrenches the emotional power from Doug. Jem had saved his life. And what, now he was leaving town? Leaving him, and his sister, and his niece? Doug knows Jem isn’t capable of being open emotionally, and that all this tough talk about ‘not letting him walk away’ is just a cover up for the pain he feels. Power: Doug).

DOUG
I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me. Your family took me in when my father went away. (Exposition at the height of tension. Jem’s family kind of ‘adopted’ Doug when his dad went to prison). You’re like a brother to me. (Doug, without saying the words directly, tells Jem that he loves him). But I’m leaving. (Outward goal stated again.) You gonna shoot me? Go ahead. But you’re gonna have to shoot me in the back.

(Of course, Jem doesn’t. He has lost this conflict and he knows it. Doug gets up, holding all the power, and walks away.)

affleck-the-town-yells-bw3

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