Though Ben Affleck had some success with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, I still think of him mostly for terrible movies. Disasters like Gigli, that ill-fated project with his ex J-Lo, and Jersey Girl, which I can only remember for being painful. So, I went to The Town expecting the worst. I came out in tears and overwhelmed with excitement. I think it’s time that Affleck got some credit for being an incredible director.
The Town is set in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a neighbourhood of Boston. A place, as the opening the credits tells us, where crime is the everyday, and if you want to survive you have to turn forget the law. It’s the bank robbery capital of America. It is also the town where director and actor of the film Ben Affleck grew up, which may explain his ability to capture the rawness and gritty reality of the place.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the brains of the gang of criminals. These aren’t just occasional criminals, but professionals searching for that one last job, the one that will earn them enough to get out of the place altogether. In a sense The Town is a generic heist film where one job follows another until the final big showdown. But there is nothing generic about this film. Affleck takes an idea that we all know and love, and makes it exciting and believable, and gives it an almost a film noir quality.
The first job of the film is the one that sets the direction of the film and changes the course of the characters’ lives. During the robbery, they take bank manager Claire Keesy, played by English actress Rebecca Hall, hostage but let her go soon after. The trouble is that Claire only lives a few blocks away from them all. Affleck’s Doug then takes on the job of trying to find out how much she knows and if she is likely to go to the FBI. When Doug and Claire meet it’s clear from the first word that there is something between them and even when Claire reveals she has being speaking to the FBI, Doug continues seeing her without letting on that it was him who held her hostage.
The thought of this actually happening is somewhat unrealistic, but you don’t doubt it for a second. Hall’s character is very down-to-earth; she isn’t your usual manipulative bombshell familiar in heist films. She has a vulnerability that is played perfectly and that enables Affleck’s tough hood to reveal the same qualities in himself.
While the victim and the criminal are falling in love, the FBI have made progress in finding them. The FBI team is headed up by Agent Frawlay, played by the dashing Jon Hamm, who having perfected his furrowed-brow look in Mad Men, steps easily into the role of determined detective. With some added stubble, you can almost forget he’s Don Draper.
Then there is Blake Lively, known for being in teen-drama Gossip Girl, who plays Doug’s ex-girlfriend and also sister of his best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner). At times her accent is so authentic you can’t understand what she is saying, but it makes her even more realistic as the single mother with a drug problem, who has no way out.
The Town is a fairly long film, but it moves at a punchy pace. The action is edge-of-your-seat stuff, with one particularly mesmerising car chase that evokes the movies of old, before special affects took over. What with the high-intensity drama and over-wrought emotion that seeps from every desperate character, you will find your heartbeat go up a notch or two.
By the time the credits roll, you will wish it wasn’t finishing. You will want to know more about the characters fates and if their lives will end up ok. Although the plot is very familiar, there isn’t a rosy ending for anyone… as far as you know. It is real and to the point, a classic heist movie, and a shot ‘em up like they don’t make anymore but with a fresh feel. It will pull at your heart strings and leave you thinking. Wow! Ben Affleck is pretty damn good.