Ben Affleck has directed three films and the last, Argo, won Best Picture and Best Screenplay at the Oscars. Affleck’s first directorial effort, Gone Baby Gone, starred his brother Casey and a fleet of great character actors. Hollywood was taken aback by Affleck’s first attempt behind the camera, as was the viewing public. This came after a long period of inactivity from the star, who escaped from the limelight after his doomed action hero career and relationship with Jennifer Lopez. Affleck figured he needed to get away and reestablish his persona and rekindle that Good Will Hunting ingenuity. While Argo and Gone, Baby, Gone are the more critical acclaimed films of his 1-2-3 punch, The 2010 heist film, The Town, is the Fleck’s true masterpiece. I’ll give you five reasons.
1.) Affleck has never been better and he is at the center of the heartfelt story as Doug McRay, a man born into crime who basically embraced the family business and is a master at robbing banks and picking up ladies at laundry mats. Affleck twists his own Boston accent a few clicks towards Charleston and tightened up his pretty boy looks to fully get into Doug’s head. He got shredded at the gym and gave himself a high and tight haircut but more importantly, it’s the world weary look in Affleck’s eyes and the growth he shows in knowing what kind of role he had in his hands and how to play. He doesn’t overplay his hand and just mixes into the action. Very assured work that links back to his work behind the camera here. The Town isn’t just Affleck’s best work as a director but that as an actor as well.
2. He surrounds himself with a stellar supporting cast of actors who have rarely been better. Jeremy Renner was nominated for an Oscar for his work as Doug’s right hand man and the two actors have an easy going rapport that doesn’t come easy with all films. Their looks, dialogue and interactions are just perfect. Blake Lively is a fine actress but she is crazy good here as a cancer from Doug’s past. The director thought she was from Boston when the actress auditioned and Lively told him she was a California girl who just created this wonderful character and accent. She is beautiful and destructive. Rebecca Hall is a critically acclaimed actress who can hang around most genres but she doesn’t fumble the easiest role here of damsel in distress. Her scenes with Affleck are sweet and you want more. Jon Hamm loves ensembles and does his best work inside them. His work as the FBI agent who plays the Pacinio to Affleck’s DeNiro here reminded me of Heat in many ways. Their few scenes together have piss, vinegar and are so well played that you want to see a sequel. The movie also involves a great cameo from Chris Cooper as Doug’s imprisoned father. Affleck and Cooper get one scene to establish the history and they knock it out of the park. Every role here feels authentic due to the performances from the cast. This is a cast that loved the material so much that they gave it their all.
3. The story is cops and robbers and very familiar, but Affleck makes it feel fresh. The getaway chases, the bank robbery scenes chilliness and the ability of Affleck and fellow screenwriters Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard to pick up the pace and slow it down at will. Nothing felt like too much or filler. Every scene, as in the other two films, has a purpose and burns with bittersweet intensity. The script was lightly adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel’s “Prince of Thieves” and to me, it never lets up or shows weakness with multiple viewings.
4. The entire production shows heartfelt handprints. From Henry Gregson-Williams and David Buckeley’s restrained score to the acting to the thief with a heart of gold moral of the story and how you get can’t escape your past threat, The Town doesn’t feel recycled and stands as a true gem because in a day and age where remakes and reboots dominate the cinema, a mom and pop shop styled caper flick is welcomed especially if it is as sharp as this. It’s not easy to be as brutal as some of the action scenes are here and not shorthand the romance of the story without showing some heart in all of it. I never felt cold or isolated here.
5. Fenway Park is spotlighted very well. Affleck’s real life passion is Red Sox baseball, and he even screened the film for Boston’s PD and crew at the legendary park. Fenway plays a huge part in the film, where it is the stage for Doug’s final heist and sets up one of the best shootouts you will see on film and features a slow boiling suspense that doesn’t let up until the final shot. This film was as close to Affleck’s comfort zone because he didn’t just spend some time at his second church for the fun of it, he created a genuinely thrilling set piece. The final 35 minutes are heart pounding excitement. Few filmmakers will hang that much of a film’s resolution on a popular landmark. Like I said, the confidence is alive here.
The Town was Affleck’s follow up to Gone Baby Gone and i am sure most pundits thought he would mishandle it and that the first mystery crime drama would be a fluke. Instead, Affleck showed that he was an auteur to watch and someone who really knows how to frame a good story around suspense. It also makes his future films rise to a level of filmmaking that few filmmakers can sustain. Whenever I rewatch The Town, it gives me faith that Affleck’s true gift lies behind the camera and that he will enjoy a long run of success making movies that people of all tastes can appreciate. Here’s the trailer to tease.