In 2007, Ben Affleck resurrected a career that was on a downward trajectory by writing and directing Gone Baby Gone, a movie that garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Amy Ryan. After appearing in a string of flops and fueling tabloid flames with his romance with J-Lo, Affleck wisely chose to stay strictly behind the camera; he never appeared in the film. The film received universal praise, and critics hailed Affleck as promising director.
With the release of The Town, Affleck can either cement his reputation as a quality filmmaker, or he can fall victim to the sophomore slump we so often see talented directors experience. Fortunately, The Town is good enough to silence naysayers. It mines completely different territory than the quiet Gone Baby Gone, but it is a quality movie in its own right.
The Town plays more like an straight action film, and lacks the contemplative nature of Affleck’s first movie, but it is taut, well acted, and well directed. The film takes place in Charlestown, a suburb of Boston. Charlestown has earned the dubious honor of being the bank robbery capital of the world. The town has cultivated a crime syndicate capable of hitting a robbery target with surgical precision.
A group of friends born into this environment now works together as a successful team, following the orders of an older gangster who gives them assignments and later launders the money. Doug (played by Affleck) is the leader of the team, and serves as the brains of the operation.
His loose cannon friend James (Jeremy Renner) is a convicted felon with an itchy trigger finger, and he has become more of a liability than an asset of late. There is a heightened tension between the two because Doug has become romantically interested in the bank manager from one of their recent hits. She has no idea who her suitor really is.
As Doug’s feelings grow for the girl (played by Rebecca Hall) he decides he wants out, but he soon finds out just how deeply entrenched he is in the business. Nobody leaves this town.
The Town skillfully transitions between being a heist thriller and a character driven drama. The heist scenes are all the more nerve-wracking because we have come to know and care for the characters. The consequences are actually palpable, and there is no way that their streak of good luck can continue.
Affleck co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig, and there are some major plot holes. How does the grizzled gangster who launders the money through a florist shop come by his insider information? The robberies rival anything you would see in an Ocean’s movie, but how are they getting all the equipment and know-how in this rinky-dink town? There are no explanations, we are just presented with the final product.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more about the inner workings of the Charlestown crime syndicate, because what is scratched on the surface is fascinating.
Affleck coaxes some wonderful performances from his cast. Renner continues to build on his amazing performance in The Hurt Locker with another solid turn. Rebecca Hall is convincing as the fresh-scrubbed unsuspecting love interest. She gives a poignant performance in a laundromat when she comes across a freshly laundered shirt that still has the tell-tale evidence of blood from the robbery on it.
Affleck himself is quite good, though I think he might be a little too good looking for the role. Jon Hamm is the obligatory bumbling FBI agent, but it is fun to see him outside of his Mad Men role.
One weak link is Blake Lively as the sister of one of the robbers, and sometime love interest of Doug. They try to sully her golden girl looks, but I didn’t buy it. Her accent is grating as well, but fortunately she doesn’t warrant much screen time. She wasn’t awful, she just doesn’t fit in.
The Town clocks in at just over two hours, but it easily holds your interest for the entire running time. Affleck proves that his first directorial success was no fluke.