Boston to Affleck is like New York to Scorsese: it works beautifully
If there was any doubt that Ben Affleck only had one great film in him as a director with Gone Baby Gone, The Town is proof that Affleck has the chops to be the next great actor turned director. Tackling another crime film, again adapting it from a novel, The Town has all the same strengths (and the same problems in the film’s final act) and showcases the side of Affleck rarely seen: his dramatic acting chops. Set in Boston, as was his feature debut, Affleck may not have hit the heights of an Oscar winner set in that city like The Departed but he gets awfully close.
Doug Macray (Affleck) is the leader of a small crew of bank robbers in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, MA, that just managed to piss off FBI Agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm of Mad Men). Joined by his good friends James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine), and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke), Doug’s crew attracts the wrong kind of attention when they kidnap Claire, a bank manager (Rebecca Hall), midway through a robbery. Finding out she lives in the same neighborhood, Doug volunteers to try and find out what she knows (mainly so that James doesn’t kill her). As they begin a romantic liaison, Doug and his crew continue along their criminal ways while Frawley opens an investigation to bring them to justice. What follows is a cat and mouse game between Doug’s crew and the FBI as they try to outwit and outlast one another.
Taking cues from HEAT, this is a heist film wrapped around a romantic drama between Claire and Doug. Representing his way out of the life of crime, she’s also of interest to Frawley as his investigation finds out their relationship at around the same time as Doug’s crew does. For both sides she represents the truth of their situation. For Doug she’s the way out of the life, which has seen his father (Chris Cooper) serving life in prison and Doug looking at potentially the same thing. For Adam she’s the path to bringing down Doug and his whole crew. As they both wind up in her life, she ends up being the key to both their situations.
Behind the camera Affleck continues to show that he’s learned significant lessons from the directors that he’s worked with as an actor. Crafting a complete narrative, The Town is proof that Affleck has absorbed and adapted the differing styles of the directors he’s worked under and forged his own. There’s a visceral, white-knuckle intensity to the action sequences that don’t feel perfunctory or mandatory. They arise organically out of the circumstances provided; these aren’t cops and crooks engaged in standard cop and crook behavior. These are smart cops, and smart crooks, and they behave as such. There isn’t a smoking gun to be found; this is about good old fashioned police work (and a little bit of luck) trying to bring down well prepared and armed criminals. The same problem with Gone Baby Gone, having an extended ending that tries to shoehorn a happy ending into the whole ordeal, plagues The Town but everything up to that point is brilliant. The ending is merely good and it takes away from all the good going on in the screen.
In front of it, Affleck shows he still has plenty of dramatic acting chops that haven’t been seen in a while but he seems to have brought out the best in his cast as well. He and Jeremy Renner have a terrific chemistry with one another as criminal partners who’ve been lifelong friends. Both are highly talented and Affleck the director gets great performances out of both. But the film’s real star is John Hamm, better known as Don Draper from TV’s Mad Men. Given a rather one note character, Hamm chews scenery with abandon as he has a presence to him that transfers over from the hit television show. He’s not given a lot but he takes that little and brings out an element to the film that otherwise would be missing. He makes for a great foil to Affleck; both are men of honor wanting to keep the body count low but are more than willing to get dirty when the occasion calls for it.
The Town, for its minimal flaws, is proof that Ben Affleck is on his way to being perhaps the next great director of his generation.
Director: Ben Affleck
Notable Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, John Hamm, Rebecca Hall
Writer(s): Ben Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard based off the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan