Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm. Pete Postlethwaite, Blake Lively, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver
Director: Ben Affleck
Writer(s): Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard, Chuck Hogan (novel)
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Original Score: David Buckley, Harry Gregson-Williams
Running Time: 123 mins.
Consider for a minute Ben Affleck circa. 2003, Gigli marked what looked like the beginning of the end for a man once marked out as a big action star and a rather great writer (Armageddon and Good WIll Hunting) alas he made bad choice after bad choice, with flop after flop. Some salvation came during a supporting role in the little seen but rather great Hollywoodland and his reputation, if not star wattage, was on the rise again. Then out of left field Gone Baby Gone hit cinemas, directed by Ben and starring brother Casey it was the best film of that year by some way, made all the more pleasant a surprise given that Ben Affleck now looked to have found his true calling in the film world, something which left only one question…was Gone Baby Gone a one-off or was this only the tip of the iceberg.
With this in mind and hearing that his second film would be set in his beloved hometown of Boston once more and would concern bank robbers The Town looked to be a solid choice to over-come that difficult second film syndrome, though on the evidence of The Town I have a feeling Affleck’s eye for direction could easily stretch to whoever or wherever he chose to point the camera, of course it helps that with Boston he has personal ties and clearly knows the neighbourhood and its people and machinations inside out. Setting really is the only shared factor between Affleck’s two directorial efforts, showing the mark of a truly great director he confidently differentiates in visual style while retaining the same skill set that proved Gone Baby Gone to be so expertly made. The key difference this time round is that Affleck sr. has himself decided to take the lead role in front of the camera, a brave move that pays of dividends for he is as capable in front and centre as he is behind the scenes, reminding us why he was once a big star and should (on this evidence) most certainly continue to be.
Afflecks is a convincing and involving performance in a film that is full of them, on a base level this is a heist movie in the same mould as Michael Mann’s Heat, sharing many of that films beats it never glamourises any aspect of the characters lives, and like heat it is a story about relationships between law and order and crime and the implications of life growing up in Boston where bank and armoured car robbery is handed down from father to son, like any profession might be. Affleck’s Ray is one such man to inherit this unfortunate and dangerous profession, one that is seemingly becoming more any more dangerous by the job.
Add to this the complication of a hostage (taken against Ray’s wishes) whom he falls for when he is meant to be following her and you can see there are more than a few plot strands and relationship to balance over the course of two hours, and thats before Ive mentioned Blake Lively as a trailer trash single mum, Pete Postlethwaites florist/gangster and the police investigation led by Jon Hamm who proves himself to be a formidable acting talent and a worthy opponent for Affleck. The plot strands are woven through the familiar “lead character wants to escape his life of crime after one last job” beat but escape the clichés bound to this by focusing on character and a constant, seemingly effortless, grounding in th reality of the situation helped by some of the years best and most intimate action scenes.
it would seem that Afflleck’s ample time spent following direction from old school style Kevin Smith has afforded him the ability to conjure great performances from some snappy dialogue, but more so in the action beats there is a strong sense of a toned down and much more attuned Michael Bay as the camera pans around characters and a car chase at the mid-point is dramatic, thrilling and ultimately cinematic without being grandstanding, this may sound gushing but the excellence from such a fledgling director is refreshing.
To find fault in The Town seems folly but there are one or two discrepancies, things that given the running time are unavoidable, many of the supporting characters are reduced to mere background details which is a shame given the calibre of a handful of them and inevitable some plot threads feel disregarded for a time while others take president but upon the conclusion they are all suitably wound up, not so much happily but within the realms of the events leading to that point and in a big budget studio film an original yet great ending is a luxury, particulary when it is preceeded by such an embarassment of riches in filmic terms.
Ben Affleck has done it again, a film that proves his chops as both one of the best directors around and an acting force that he once threatened to be, made good here. The Town is a heist film, and so much more proving that Gone Baby Gone was certainly no fluke…Oscar beckons if the omens are right.