There was a time, in the 1970s, when stories of middle-class alienation and dreamers struggling to get ahead were invariably set in New York. Lately, such accounts of white- and blue-collar angst have moved 200 miles up I-95 to the Boston suburbs, where the fight to survive isn’t exclusively the domain of street hustlers and last-chance athletes.
It wasn’t that John Wells, executive producer of groundbreaking TV dramas including ER and The West Wing, had never considered making the jump to the big screen. He had received offers, but none of them felt right. Then his brother-in-law fell victim to corporate downsizing, and Wells started writing and researching and seeking out thousands of the unemployed, to share with him accounts of life on the frontlines.
“The stories were self-deprecating, tragic and humorous, but above all dignified,” he says. “That integrity was the common thread in all the people I spoke to, from the couple hundred I met to the couple thousand I found online. I knew I had to present their experiences with the same qualities.”
Doug MacRay could have been a contender. He robs banks and armored trucks for a living, moonlighting as a blue-collar construction type. Once upon a time he had a chance to escape the mean streets of Boston’s clannish Charlestown neighborhood, and with them the legacy of his father, a career criminal wasting away in Walpole’s Cedar Junction prison.
Doug (Ben Affleck) was a hockey player with a scorer’s touch, but instead of going pro he fell into the family business, emptying vaults for the neighborhood crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite) and setting aside just enough cash to harbor dreams of a better life. He has a tight-knit crew and a guiding sense of principle, though the two are often at odds.