'The Town': Is Charlestown really America's 'bank robbery capital'?

‘The Town’ is Ben Affleck's new thriller set in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. But residents beg to differ with the movie’s portrayal of the area.

Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
Rebecca Hall (l.) and Ben Affleck appear in 'The Town.'

In a stroll of Charlestown on a sunny day, it’s hard to believe this tiny Boston neighborhood could be “the bank robbery capital of America” – the Warner Bros. hype about Ben Affleck’s new film “The Town,” which opens Friday. Brick houses and old-fashioned gaslights line Charlestown’s narrow colonial streets, and ordinary folks bustle about the Dunkin’ Donuts, and the CVS drugstore.

Boston’s historic Freedom Trail ends in Charlestown, home to the Bunker Hill Monument and the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides). Townies, those born and raised here, don’t take kindly to being portrayed in Mr. Affleck’s film as “a bunch of dumb bums" (to use the words of one resident).

Is it even true that this wedge-shaped, one-square-mile neighborhood claims title to “the bank robbery capital of America”?

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Boston police say they can't verify that: They don't track bank robberies nationwide, and they don’t break out bank-robbery statistics from all robbery numbers for the city. But their statistics do show that Charlestown has barely more than 2 percent of all Boston robberies, not just bank robberies.

Greg Comcowich, Boston Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman, would not confirm the truth of the movie’s dramatic claim either.

“I don’t think we want to officially comment on whether a certain place has a higher count of robberies than another place,” he says.

But the Boston FBI does track bank robberies nationwide, and its statistics show that the whole state of Massachusetts has fewer than 3 percent of all bank robberies nationwide. "The bottom line is, the statistics speak for themselves,” Mr. Comcowich says. “People can draw their own conclusions.”

Well, if statistics can't prove that Charlestown is the bank robbery capital of America, then it must not be, right? “That’s a pretty good conclusion,” Comcowich says.

“I guess the author of the book or the author of the movie might be able to shed more light on that,” he adds.

In fact, Boston real estate agents routinely advise young professionals and families to move to Charlestown, citing its safety.

Peter Looney, a townie who hosts a local TV show called “Charlestown Live,” went to the Boston première of “The Town” Tuesday night at Boston’s Fenway Park, where Affleck appeared. The actor’s remarks, Mr. Looney says, made it clear that the movie is in no way a poor reflection on the people of Charlestown.

“He still cares about us,” Looney says. And, he says, “It’s a good movie.”

Townies cite their pride in growing up in a close-knit neighborhood with traditionally large Irish Catholic families whose members went on to work as priests, politicians, police officers, and firefighters. But in recent decades, “Charlestown has changed,” says Looney. “It’s gentrified and diverse now. It’s not the same town as it was in the early ’90s and the ’80s.”

When asked about the film’s portrayal of Charlestown, Bill Peletier, wearing a green “Charlestown Townies” sweat shirt at the Dunkin' Donuts, says, “Movies are fixated on the bad part.” In the movie, “It’s evident that a lot of it is fiction.”

But the film’s portrayal, he says, “just doesn’t define the town.”

Mr. Peletier has a lot of company. Many locals opened their homes to filming for “The Town,” and they were shocked to see the end results, said Bernie Evers Sr., a townie in his 70s who was relaxing with friends in the Dunkin’ Donuts.

“I talked to people involved in the movie, people who allowed them to use their homes. From what I’m getting, people don’t like it. They feel we were abused,” says Mr. Evers, who adds, “I’m not rushing to see the movie. If it’s on TV, I’ll watch it. Out of curiosity.”

Others in the Dunkin’ Donuts, including William McNelley and his wife, Linda, also defended Charlestown’s image. It’s about time Hollywood produced something nice about Charlestown, they said.

The couple cites a long history of involvement with Charlestown youths, through the Kiwanis Club, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Bunker Hill Day parade.

“We lived in Charlestown all our lives,” Linda McNelley says. “Charlestown is a nice town no different from any other town. You notice we’re still here.”

Bob Fitzpatrick, a retired townie who says he was paid $107 to be an extra in “The Town,” says he grew up in a family of 14 kids. “A lot of us turned out pretty good,” he says. “We outnumber the bad guys.”

Plenty of people rob and steal in other communities, but they don’t get the press bashing that Charlestown does, townies complain.

“Hollywood will do anything that will sell tickets. It’s sad,” Peletier says.

RELATED - The Town: movie review

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