With a second solid narrative feature under his belt, Ben Affleck is shaping up to be a stronger force behind the camera than he ever was in front of it. The Boston born and bred actor turned director has a great stylistic instinct and the ability to create rich characters that have great things going on below the surface. In 2007, he directed Amy Ryan to a Best Supporting Actress nominee for her turn in Gone Baby Gone. With Affleckâ€™s current trajectory it would be no surprise to see him get nominated for a Best Director Oscar down the road.
With Affleckâ€™s latest film The Town he returns to the gritty streets of Boston that he brought to such brilliant life in Gone Baby Gone for a star-studded heist movie that improves on some of the best moments in classic Hollywood films of the genre. Despite its over-ambition and the fact that the film peaks too early in a dramatic sense, it continues to prove that Affleck has great abilities as he piles on the suspense and then breaks the tension with perfectly timed moments of comedy. There are moments in The Town where it feels like the narrative is trying to do too much, but when it slows itself down itâ€™s a truly enjoyable ride.
The Charlestown neighborhood of Boston is reportedly the bank robbery capital of the United States. Where small towns in rural America pass down farming or another skill from generation to generation, in Charlestown the family trade is robbery. Doug MacRay (Affleck) is following in his incarcerated fatherâ€™s footsteps to become a skilled larcenist running heist jobs for Fergie â€œThe Floristâ€ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite). Along with his team of men each possessing a different skill MacRay and the boys rob some of the largest banks in Boston and make off with amounts in the hundreds of thousands. In the filmâ€™s opening heist the team captures bank assistant manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and kidnap then release her. Fear spreads among the group, specifically among the gangâ€™s most hot headed member, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) that Claire might know too much and Doug is sent to do some clean-up work.
After their initial confrontation Doug is too kind-hearted to do anything bad to her and instead gets captivated by her vulnerability and the two start a sordid affair, while Doug conceals his frequent heist activity. Stirring things up is FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) who is never fully convinced of Claireâ€™s innocence and puts the pinch on them both as their relationship grows deeper. Doug is forced to re-examine his current life of crime and is forced to face the realization that one cannot easily escape the sins of oneâ€™s father.
Once again Affleck draws a stellar supporting performance from one of the members of the filmâ€™s cast. In the case of The Town the exemplary star is Jeremy Renner whose short fuse is constantly being tested leading to great moments of suspense whenever he appears on screen. One of the strongest moments in the film comes about a third of the way in during Jamesâ€™ first confrontation with Doug and Claire. Rennerâ€™s cockiness is brilliantly played making him oblivious to the fact that one wrong turn of the head and Claire learns all of their secrets.
Just like Gone Baby Gone, The Town is presented episodically and unfortunately nothing in the film ever quite lives up to the first act. The movie was a bit over-ambitious in its attempt to present such varying layers of narrative and overlapping conflicts between Doug and Claire, Doug and James, Doug and â€œThe Floristâ€, and Doug and Agent Frawley. The result is that some essential moments of narrative get glossed over and the main gangster â€œThe Floristâ€ doesnâ€™t seem threatening in the least and Dougâ€™s father doesnâ€™t seem sympathetic in the least.
However, for every character that gets carelessly glossed over there is another that is able to brilliantly shine. Blake Lively is fantastic as a drug-addicted single mother comparable to the character that earned Amy Ryan such acclaim in Gone Baby Gone. Also, several actors that may be on their way to becoming Affleck regulars (Slaine, Titus Welliver) re-appear and are very entertaining in their limited parts.
Itâ€™s Affleckâ€™s remarkable ability to derive such strong performances from his supporting actors and his clearly well-thought out character development that lends me to believe that when he gets a great script he has the potential to direct a truly amazing film. The Town, unfortunately, is not that film, but itâ€™s definitely a worthy effort.
Bottom Line: The Town doesnâ€™t hit the same dramatic notes as Gone Baby Gone, but itâ€™s definitely a worthwhile heist film.
[Image: Cinema Blend]