As the summer explosions are packed away and the fall award bait begins to hit theaters, viewers can look forward to new films from master craftsmen such as Danny Boyle, Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher.
Opening the season is Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” a thrilling crime drama that makes a strong case for Affleck’s name to be added to the list of great directors.
“The Town” is similar to Affleck’s previous film “Gone Baby Gone” in many ways; most notably its Boston setting and procedural nature. But “The Town” expands the scope, involving not just the criminals but also the women who love them and the feds that hunt them down.
At the center of the tale is Doug, played by Affleck, a bank robber with a heart of gold. Doug is the brains of an outfit that includes childhood friend Jem, played by Jeremy Renner, as the muscle. After a slight mishap during a bank robbery, Jem takes bank manager Claire, played by Rebecca Hall, hostage to ensure a safe getaway. After the gang lets her go, Doug decides to cozy up with Claire to make sure she doesn’t have anything to say to FBI Agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm, a man who’s been on their trail for some time.
The couple soon falls in love, and Doug sees a way out of Charlestown, away from the long shadow of his incarcerated father, played by Chris Cooper, and memories of his missing mother. Jem grows suspicious of Claire and Doug’s courtship, as does Frawley, and what follows is a struggle for survival in an environment designed to swallow you whole.
While the story isn’t particularly revolutionary, Affleck leads a cast of incredibly talented actors and loads his film with character moments that makes the audience truly care for the parties involved. Renner makes Jem a truly formidable loose cannon and Hamm brings a stern yet questionable authority to Frawley. Cooper knocks it out of the park with his single scene and Hall holds her own as a broken woman just beginning to pick up the pieces of her life. The bench is so deep here that every scene is worthwhile just for the performances at hand.
The most laudable performance, however, is Affleck. Directing and acting is a fine line to walk, and he holds his own against all comers. Doug is an incredibly confused individual, trying to outrun his past sins and constantly making excuses for new ones. As a performance it’s noteworthy, but when you factor in that he directed and co-wrote the picture, the job he does here is incredible.
The film’s highlights are the various bank and truck robberies, which are staged with cunning and aplomb. A car chase in the narrow streets of Boston’s North End makes for thrilling entertainment, and a heist involving one of Boston’s most beloved landmarks serves as a riveting finale. There are no quick cuts and shaky cams here, just calm, cool confidence.
With “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” under his belt, one can only look back at the earlier moments of Affleck’s career and see it as a novelty. Who knew this much talent was hidden within the guy who played with animal crackers on Liv Tyler’s chest, or told Will Hunting to get out of town? After working with the likes of Kevin Smith, Gus Van Sant and Michael Bay, it’s clear he was merely watching and waiting, learning as he went along. And now, a new great talent has surfaced. Welcome.