It’s time to start liking Ben Affleck again. After a series of highly forgettable or just really bad movies (we’re looking at you, “Jersey Girl”), the actor has finally found his stride—behind the camera.
As a crime drama set in Boston, “The Town”, directed and co-written by Affleck, will inevitably draw comparisons to its predecessors, including “The Departed,” “Mystic River,” and Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone”. While maybe not as great as the first two, “The Town” is a fun and extremely watchable film that shows off Affleck’s unquestionable skill as a director.
After having his brother Casey star in “Gone Baby Gone”, this time Affleck takes the leading role for himself. He plays Doug MacRay, the leader of a group of bank robbers from the working class neighborhood of Charlestown. He’s joined by an all-star cast including Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, and Chris Cooper, who has an all-too-brief role as Doug’s incarcerated father.
The plot is simple: Doug, his best friend Jem Coughlin (Renner), and two friends begin by robbing a Cambridge bank at gunpoint. Everything goes smoothly (at least, as smoothly as a bank robbery ever goes), until they kidnap a random bank employee (Hall) and drive off. As luck and movie magic would have it, she’s also really good looking. The men eventually let her go, but Jem realizes that because she lives nearby and panics, thinking that maybe she could I.D. them. Doug intervenes to prevent her from going to the police. He ends up asking her on a date, and — shockingly enough —he falls in love with her. She also doesn’t realize who he is, and he intends to keep it that way. Meanwhile, a frustrated FBI agent (Hamm) pursues these men, determined to put them all behind bars. As Affleck starts to seek a way out of this lifestyle, he agrees to one final job, hoping that it will make him rich enough to get away.
The Town could have been your typical clichéd heist movie, but it really gets interesting when it begins to explore the lives and background of these characters. As an actor, Affleck’s career has been hit (Hollywoodland) or miss (Gigli), but he is in fine form here as MacRay. A native Bostonian returning to his roots, he brings nuance and a natural ease to the role. We’re never completely sure why Doug falls in love with Claire, especially so quickly, but it conveniently allows for a different side of him to come across.
Jeremy Renner is the real standout. After his Oscar-nominated role in The Hurt Locker, he once again takes on a tough guy persona as Jem, complete with a Fighting Irish tattoo on the back of his neck. Fiercely loyal to his Charlestown roots, Jem is abrasive and trigger-happy, but Renner transforms him into the one guy we want to be friends with. When Doug asks if he could help him fight someone, Jem’s response is, “whose car are we taking?”
One of the major drawbacks of the film is how unevenly some of these characters are written.
Though Affleck, Renner, and Hall fare well, others are not as lucky. Jon Hamm doesn’t have much of an opportunity to prove his talent as an actor, and is stuck in a one-note role as an FBI agent. Also, despite what the trailers and movie publicists would have us think, Blake Lively — trying VERY HARD to be taken as a serious actress—has at most fifteen minutes of screen time and her part isn’t particularly important.
Affleck has a great sense of suspense and pacing, and the robbery scenes are among the best in the film. The thieves are visibly experienced, which comes across in the meticulous detail of each crime sequence. Everything, from destroying surveillance tapes in the microwave to a speedy getaway, has been accounted for. They even dress as nuns one time. The various disguises and costume changes are like Sydney Bristow’s on Alias, and it thus seems fitting that
Victor Garber makes an appearance as a bank employee.
All in all, although the title makes it sound like a bad horror movie, The Town” is really well- made and entertaining. It is a testament to Affleck’s skill as a director that we genuinely sympathize with these characters and root for the criminals instead of the cops. The romance angle becomes predictable and contrived towards the end, but it’s balanced out by how engaging
the crime scenes are.
Affleck proves “Gone Baby Gone” was certainly not beginner’s luck, and hey, if he wants to keep making movies in Boston, we’ll keep watching.