Affleck goes to familiar ground
Image: Warner Bros.
It’s fair to say that most of us were surprised when Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone, Baby, Gone, turned out to be really very good. It seemed bizarre than an actor who had attracted so much ridicule and had made so many bad career choices could be capable of crafting a well-made thriller with such good performances. So expectations were high for Boston crime drama The Town.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the brains of a bank-robbing crew. When his volatile friend Jem (Jeremy Renner) takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage during a robbery, Doug follows her to make sure she doesn’t know anything that could incriminate them. Doug falls for Claire and the two start a relationship and starts to plan for another life in another city. He may want out, but his friends aren’t going to let him go easily. Meanwhile, FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is closing in.
The Town, like Gone, Baby, Gone, is a well directed film. Affleck continues to show that he is comfortable and capable behind the camera, getting excellent performances from his cast and, with the exception of a couple of misguided stylistic flourishes, keeps a steady hand on the wheel. He also pulls a couple of excellent action sequences out of the bag, with a tense car chase being one of the highlights of the film.
However, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that The Town isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Affleck aims for authenticity by setting the film in Boston, but anyone who’s seen The Departed will be acquainted with the accents and the slang. In terms of tone and subject matter, the film’s not too far away from his first effort. He also tries hard to give his characters moral shades of grey. The FBI agents are either intimidating witnesses or betraying their community. Doug is noble and sweet with Claire, while callous and cold with his junkie ex Krista (Blake Lively). All of which is fine, but it makes the swift romance between Claire and Doug difficult to swallow.
The performances are uniformly solid. Affleck has grown as an actor as well as a director, and he’s backed up by Hall (The Prestige), who brings depth to her underwritten role, and Renner, who gives an electrifying turn in the stereotypical “loose cannon best friend” role. Hamm (TV’s Mad Men) vies with Renner (The Hurt Locker) for best in show, hinting that beneath Frawley’s G-Man exterior is something darker that enjoys frightening women into revealing what they know. Lively (TV’s Gossip Girl) is surprisingly convincing as the drugged-up Krista, Pete Postlethwaite does menacing in an Irish accent as the local crime boss, and Chris Cooper has a nice cameo as Doug’s imprisoned dad.
Predictable though The Town may be, it’s also an entertaining drama that will keep you involved with the characters for the slightly-too-long running time. While he might not be the first to set a crime movie in Boston, his affection for the city does come through. Affleck has taken another step towards making us forget his work with Michael Bay, but next time it would be nice if he’d try something a little different.
A solid, well-made, well-acted crime drama.