The Town is an emotional drama with three action-packed heist scenes; it stars and is directed by Ben Affleck; and it is very good. This is an unusual thing to be writing, but it is also true. I have always liked Affleck since Chasing Amy/Good Will Hunting, even through the bad times, so I was glad when he had a bit of a revival, starting with Hollywoodland (which I only saw recently, but he was really good in it), then moving into directing with Gone Baby Gone, but still acting in the likes of State Of Play. He continues this positive run with a good turn as the central character in The Town and handling the direction with equal skill.
Affleck is Doug, a second-generation criminal, who robs banks with this old friends from the neighbourhood, including Jem (a wonderfully volatile and electrifying Jeremy Renner), whose violence and unpredictability are a worry for Doug but he owes Jem. The film starts with a set piece where they rob a bank in a very controlled manner, with some nice touches such as microwaving the security footage on computer disk and collecting people’s phones in a bowl and covering them with bleach. However, a silent alarm is tripped and the police are on the way, so they take a hostage, Claire (an excellent Rebecca Hall), just in case. When they discover she is lives in the same area (Charlestown), although she is not a Townie like they are, Doug has to scope her out to make sure she doesn’t know anything that will connect them to the robbery. In doing so, he falls into a relationship with her that causes him to re-evaluate what he wants with his life. But it’s not so easy to get out of the robbery business, especially when he’s so good.
The film is a good mix of character drama and crime film – the three heists, the final one stealing from Fenway Park, the ‘Cathedral of Boston’, are well filmed and exciting, but the relationship between Doug and Claire develops slowly and movingly, taking time to make it believable. There is also the volatile relationship between Doug and Jem, the fractured relationship between Doug and his father in jail (Chris Cooper in a cameo scene), Doug’s former girlfriend (who has a daughter that might be Doug’s), and the local godfather of crime (Pete Postelthwaite, doing a very strange accent). Also in the mix is the FBI agent (played by John Hamm) who is leading the team charged with finding the bank robbers – it is here that the film plays closest to Heat: Affleck and Hamm outstubbling each other in the role of thief and cop, even having a similar single face-off scene together; the action scenes are very reminiscent of those in Heat, with the same intensity and noise levels, although Affleck brings things closer to the action, such as being in the front seat of the cars being chased by cops in the second set piece, driving in the very narrow back streets of Charlestown.
Affleck does a good job of directing – there is an element of the actor being good with actors, as all the main characters are excellent in their roles, particularly Hall doing a very good American accent, but he also handles the visuals well, with hand-held camera work to provide an edgy feel but not sacrificing telling a good story with flashy gimmicks. I was impressed with his confidence behind the camera, as well as also playing the lead role; there is a passion for Boston that infuses the film, which brings an extra element to the mix. Admittedly, he has given himself a good role – the intelligent criminal who doesn’t want to hurt people, with a tortured past (his mother left when he was 6 years old, although we find out the more horrible truth later; his father went to jail when he was relatively young; he was drafted to play hockey but blew his chances at achieving success) – but the film is adapted from a novel (Prince Of Thieves), so the romantic nature of the character probably came from that. It doesn’t hide the fact that The Town is a really good film, with good acting, good directing and a good story, and that Affleck has a good career ahead of him as a director.