By Scott Martin
The Town, USA, 2010
Directed by Ben Affleck
In 1997, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon gave us a soft and emotional tour of Boston in Good Will Hunting, as they knew it growing up. They explored the values of hope and family. In 2007, ten years later, Affleck went it alone and took us back to Boston with Gone Baby Gone, exploring themes of loss and grief, right and wrong. In 2010, Affleck took us to the doorstep, sat us down on the curb, and said, “Watch.” The town, Charlestown, to be specific, lives and breathes by itself as the central hub of bank robberies in New England. The film’s opening quotes tell us that the trade is almost a birthright, something you’re born into, or against. For the four lads in this film, it’s the only life they know, and they’ll go to incredible lengths to protect it.
Ben Affleck is a fantastic director. Being an actor, he understands how to work with them and get the best performances possible. There isn’t a false performance in this film, not one, and if Good Will Hunting and Gone Baby Gone weren’t already an indication, he’s an extremely gifted writer. He’s a great American filmmaker, if I may be so bold. After only two films as director, that’s pretty bold, but I’ll stand by it. Sue me. Affleck understands pacing better than most directors working today. I think it can be attributed to his involvement in the scriptwriting, and his timing as an actor. All of these elements elevate his films beyond what they might be in the hands of other directors. He isn’t a Scorsese or a Capra or a Coppola, but he’s Affleck, and, at the very least, he was the bomb in Phantoms.
The film opens with the very crux of the story, a bank robbery. Doug (Affleck), Jem (Jeremy Renner), and two of their friends are dressed as Skeletor and eagerly awaiting a couple of guards’ entry into the bank, so they can snatch the keys, get the cash, and get out. Once they’re in, though, things don’t go quite as well as they’d hoped; Jem gets nervous and takes a hostage, Claire (Rebecca Hall), but Doug releases her unharmed, though blindfolded and barefoot. She goes to the FBI and talks to Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), and launches a Charlestown-wide manhunt after one of the boys slips up and leaves a nearly undetectable clue. Jem gets nervous again, and Doug takes responsibility to make sure that Claire doesn’t have anything by which to recognize the crew. He “randomly” meets her at a laundromat and strikes up a friendship that blossoms into a surprisingly real romance. The most unfortunate part of it all? She knows the tattoo on the back on one of their necks.
There’s something comforting about crime thrillers. It could be the formula, and there is formula here, make no mistake. It could be that most of them take place in either New York, Boston, or the UK. Personally, I’ve grown incredibly fond of “accented” crime thrillers. Maybe I’ve become so accustomed to these standards that others might feel weak, or perhaps they’re just the best of their kind. Only time will tell, but, to be fair, it’s hard to find a crime thriller that isn’t set to match a specific area. Generalized, non-regional dialect crime movies just don’t seem to exist.
Jeremy Renner received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Jem. He’s a loose cannon, perhaps the very definition thereof. He plays Jem like a child, almost, with a sort of Cops & Robbers attitude about him. Of course, he’s been at this since a very young age, and he’s been Doug’s right hand man for as long as they’ve been working together, almost since childhood. Renner plays him with a strong sense of conviction, and is almost unrecognizable from his first Oscar-nominated performance in The Hurt Locker a year prior. Affleck continues to stretch his acting muscles, bringing a sensitive manliness to his Doug, especially in his scenes with Rebecca Hall. He’s tender, and it’s shocking, given the man that Doug is. Blake Lively shines as Doug’s former flame, Krista; if Renner is almost unrecognizable, she’s barely even Blake Lively anymore. It’s an astonishing performance. Jon Hamm is intense as ever as the FBI agent on their tail, and Pete Postlethwaite shows a very dark side as the bank robbers’ boss, Fergie Colm, also known as “the Florist,” in one of his final performances before his unfortunate passing this year.
The Town is an almost flawless film, an easy ten out of ten, I’d think, but for that bit of formula that could have been avoided. Roger Ebert noted a dependency on the car chases and shoot-outs, but failed to mention one crucial thing: Affleck knows how to direct them. Consider the instant classic Fenway Park heist, and the subsequent shoot-out that follows. There are moments in film every now and then when you can tell the director is so confident in what he’s doing that he seems to just sit back and watch everything fall into place. This climax is one of those moments. It’s symphonic, in a way, and if it doesn’t prove Affleck’s worth in Hollywood, I don’t believe anything will. This film is beautifully adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. It feels like a film that could stand on its own, and Affleck makes the material his own, while paying respect to Charlestown and the novel itself. Great adaptations can do that. If you borrow someone’s toys, you don’t break them.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com