“The Town” Welcomes Back Ben Affleck The Actor & Confirms His Directorial Skills
“Gigli”. “Jersey Girl”. “Pearl Harbor”. We all could go on and on and list all of the average, sub-par, and downright horrible Ben Affleck movies from the past ten years. Something must have happened to Affleck around 2006 because he took a smallish role as George Reeves in the underrated “Hollywoodland”. He took a few years off and took a few more small roles, with the highlight being Stephen Collins in “State Of Play”. In between those aforementioned roles, he adapted the novel “Gone Baby Gone” for the screen (good job there) and also directed it (great job there). So, after proving that he can indeed act and showing he could potentially successfully direct, what does Ben do?
What Ben Affleck does is adapt a novel into a screenplay, direct his screenplay, and also put himself in the lead role. He does all three of these things with equal skill and because of that, among other things, “The Town” is as entertaining, gripping, and intense as any crime thriller in recent memory. In short, Ben Affleck has returned from his mid-career slump.
Affleck stars as Doug MacRay, a former hockey prospect turned robbery mastermind. Doug’s crew isn’t your run of the mill, morons in ski masks knocking over liquor stores. These guys meticulously plan their heists, much like DeNiro’s gang in “Heat”. Except they do so with “Bastahn” accents.
The movie opens up with a fairly intense bank robbery, in which bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage. This is mostly due to the erratic, sociopath behavior from Jam (Jeremy Renner), who thinks they will need her if they get any police attention. They let Claire go, but still worry whether she could identify any of them. This doesn’t go over so well with the other guys in the gang as kidnapping is taken much more seriously than armed robbery by the authorities. So, in an effort to find out what Claire knows, Doug starts following her.
Naturally, Doug and Claire meet and begin to fall for each other. She is everything that Doug sees as an escape from his white trash, low life existence. Could she even help him escape the shadow of his life-sentence serving father (one scene with Chris Cooper and it’s a real winner)? Some people have problems with Claire falling for Doug, but I don’t. He approaches her after she was abducted and threatened by violent criminals with machine guns. Needless to say, she is feeling a bit fragile.
Those violent criminals are being pursued in a hardcore, full out bloodhound way by Jon Hamm’s FBI agent Adam Frawley. It should take you about five seconds to get over the fact that Don Draper is an FBI agent as Hamm shows zero trace of his now iconic role in this movie. He is like Tommy Lee Jones’ Sam Gerard, except he is willing to bend the rules and definitely not afraid to smack a few bad guys around to get what he needs.
Really, “The Town” is a big character study with a few intense bank heist scenes, which are borderline “Heat”-like. While that film dealt with wide open streets in Los Angeles, “The Town” is working in the two lane, tiny streets of Boston. It’s claustrophobic, which only adds to the suspense. The editor, Dylan Tichenor, and director Affleck deserve some major credit for creating these few action scenes in a way that is easy to follow and believable. You won’t find any hyper-quick editing here, which in my opinion, makes a movie suffer. Throw in some fantastic sound work (the machine gun fire sounds amazing) and you’ve got some great heist sequences. Michael Mann would be proud.
But, it all comes back to these characters, which are at the heart of it. Affleck, whose best acting to date for me was in “Changing Lanes”, now has his finest performance committed to film. He’s charming, funny, and intense when he needs to be. This is the perfect role for him and should be a sign of things to come. Blake Lively pops up as Jam’s younger sister Krista, a drug addict and potential mother of Doug’s illegitimate child. For the first time ever, Blake Lively made me not want to look at Blake Lively. That in itself is impressive.
However, the real scene stealer here is Jeremy Renner. Unlike “The Hurt Locker”, Renner’s Jam really has no likable qualities. He is straight scumbag lunatic criminal. He’s like a coiled snake that you could stare at for hours, unsure when it’s going to strike. His Jam isn’t a guy that loves robbing banks because of the money, he loves stealing because of the rush it gives him. You’ve seen this character in hundreds of movies before, but Renner is good that it seems like it’s the first time anyone has played crazed bank robber.
After about twenty seconds of movie, you know that it is not going to end well for everyone in “The Town”. It’s a very formulaic movie and isn’t going to blow your mind in the manner of “Inception”. However, it is easily the second best movie I’ve seen so far in 2010 (after “Inception”).
It’s impossible to not be reminded of “Heat” when thinking of this movie, but there is one thing “The Town” has on “Heat”: not even Michael Mann had the balls to film a robbery inside Fenway Park. For that alone, you should see “The Town”.
Cinematically Correct note: Titus Welliver has a decent sized role. He was the Man In Black on “Lost”. So, there you go.