Who’d have thought it? Ben Affleck: the comeback king. Yet in hindsight, stepping behind the camera as both writer and director was something of a no brainer considering he and buddy Matt Damn came to prominence winning the Oscar for their Good Will Hunting screenplay. With The Town and his debut film as director, 2006’s Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has affirmed himself as a new director to watch.
As stated at the start of the film, ‘there are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year. Most of these professionals live in a 1-square-mile neighbourhood called Charlestown’. Then BOOM, four guys in skull masks rob a bank, taking bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage. However, complications arise when one of the bank robbers, Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck), falls for Keesey, not only putting both their lives in danger, but also putting added strain on his relationship with unstable best friend James ‘Jem’ Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). The robbery also gains the attention of Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who will stop at nothing to put Affleck and co. behind bars.
For all its flaws, Gone Baby Gone demonstrated that Affleck has a knack for getting great performances from his actors. What’s startling with The Town, however, is that he has successfully juggled the mammoth task of not only directing but staring too, the irony of which is, as Doug MacRay, he has delivered one of the finest performances of his career. The internal conflict of the character is palpable, pulled from all sides between his new-found love and his chosen profession as a thief. There is a good man to be found here; yet MacRay has no qualms about opening fire on squad cars.
Yet Affleck is only one of an ensemble of great talent. Rebecca Hall flexes her acting muscles further, seemingly more comfortable with the gravitas than her break through role in The Prestige whilst Jon Hamm does well with what is ultimately an under-written character. However, it’s the late Pete Postlethwaite and Jeremy Renner that shine, both chilling as the ruthless mob boss and psychotic bank robber respectively. In Renner’s case, the bitter taste left by SWAT is all but forgotten. On the back of this and The Hurt Locker the man has the best years of his career ahead of him.
Affleck still has some lessons to learn on the film-making side of things. The minor pacing issues seen in Gone Baby Gone carry forward here, and there are odd character beats that veer towards needless (Hamm’s somewhat forced and over dramatic ‘go fuck yourself’ speech and Renner downing a discarded Coke during a gun fight, for example), but the film as a whole is tighter and more intense than Gone Baby Gone. As a technical exercise in excitement, The Town boasts set pieces to rival any blockbusting juggernaught. On that account Affleck should certainly be proud. The Town is an impressive, excellent piece of work.
Best performances: Pete Postlethwaite and Jeremy Renner.
Best line: MacRay – ‘I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is, you can never ask me about it later, and we’re gonna hurt some people.’
Coughlin – ‘…Whose car are we gonna’ take?’