Our boy Ben places himself back in the director’s chair for The Town, yet another film in the long list of bank heist crime dramas with the added twist of the Irish mob perspective that only Bean Town can deliver. Did you know that Ben has three other directing credits to his name? Gone Baby Gone (2007), Gimme Shelter (2008 – video short), and I Killed My Lesbian Wife. . .(1993 – cinema short) have all been touched by the angel known as Affleck. But is he really that awesome? Being boys with Kevin Smith and playing the title role in Daredevil (2003) only gets him so far with nerds. His appeal with women is limited due to being married to Jennifer Garner and he isn’t as spry as he was in Bounce (2000). The fact that his filmography does not compare with his boy, Matt Damon, puts all true film buffs on notice. So I pose the question: Would a transition from onscreen actor to behind camera director be a positive mark for his career? The answer is: possibly, with the condition that he stops directing films that feature himself as a leading actor. Regardless of how talented an individual may be, directing one’s self in any production is never to be recommended due to the simple fact that an individual with no stake in screen time is removed from the creative process of molding a performance. You know how two heads are better than one? Perhaps this is not applicable to individuals with swelled heads like Mel Gibson or even Peter Griffin (remember Peter Griffin presents: The King and I?). More often than not, self directing has a strong element of ego boosting and I wonder what more could possibly boost an ego the size of Mr. Ben Affleck’s and if doing so impacts the overall quality of the given production?
The Town is an entertaining story that features very good performances from many talented thespians which center on an anti-hero protagonist who finally reaches an epiphany to make some kind of amends for a life filled with wrong doing. Yes, I know, this story has been done before. Where this film tries to be unique is by using some sort of reverse Stockholm syndrome that takes place between Doug MacRay (Affleck) and the hostage his crew takes after a bank heist, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as the engine that drives the story forward. This is a very ambitious plot construction and I presume the novel from which the script is adapted (Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan) devotes a healthy number of pages towards this inciting incident because the film does not. Screenwriters credited for The Town: Peter Craig, Aaron Stockard and (guess who) Ben Affleck should have devoted more screen time to this moment in the story because not only does it produce the moment where Doug is initially attracted to Claire, but it also shows the first moment where this exceptional crew begins to show weakness in poor decision making by Jeremy Renner’s character. The pacing of the story is very well balanced as bank heisting action is well mixed with Doug’s pursuit and/or protection of Claire with Doug’s bonding moments with his mob connections. The true strength of the writing comes through in the authenticity of the dialogue in Charlestown, the setting for this picture. Obviously the thick Boston accents by the actors aided in this endeavor, but without quality dialogue, every scene that wasn’t riddled with explosions and bullets would have been mind numbing. I give a solid thumbs-up to the writers.
The action in this film was very well done and despite it being well balanced with the dramatic moments, I would have liked to see more. Although the gunplay was very nice, what was most noteworthy was the stunt driving featured in Boston’s North End. This area is an incredibly dense business district with very narrow roads and tight turns. Despite this difficulty, the car chases were very impressive to execute as well as to capture and thus Tom McComas, the stunt coordinator and his team of drivers deserve special recognition. McComas’s extensive experience in films like The Dark Knight and The Punisher (2004) shows up in this picture.
The cast is without question, the main selling point for The Town. All the A-listers bring their A-games, yes, even Ben Affleck. The chemistry Ben develops with Rebecca Hall onscreen is good, but not great. Perhaps it is the nature of the characters in that they both hold back the true feelings each have for the other, but the emotion they do share is very real to the audience and we do care what happens to them both. As opposed to Blake Lively who continues to produce uncanny performances as the token slut, she certainly doesn’t disappoint as Krista Coughlin. Blake has all but become type cast so I am uncertain as to the level of praise she deserves for portraying a crack whore. It must have something to do with her looks which is attractive in general, but definitely has that “used up” appeal as opposed to the sensually exotic appeal. As brilliant an actor as Chris Cooper is, he was completely misused as a character and deserves more than a cameo appearance in any film! I give much respect to Jon Hamm playing FBI agent Adam Frawley who continues to expand his brand outside the critically acclaimed Mad Men show on AMC. Not that an actor of Hamm’s stature ought to be intimidated by the likes of Affleck, but Ben’s cinematic body of work currently outranks Hamm’s. I was very pleased how he maintains his character’s superior status throughout the picture, but during the interrogation scene in particular. Jon Hamm is a natural onscreen leader who oozes charisma, even when he’s being a conniving SOB.
Unfortunately, everyone takes a back seat to Jeremy Renner who continues his hot streak from The Hurt Locker. Renner may have the easiest acting responsibilities for The Town because just about all audiences gravitate towards characters that happen to be the most sadistic and apathetic and the ability to portray such a character is quite liberating for an actor. In this regard, Renner’s James Coughlin is not a far cry from the bomb-disarming William James. Jeremy has no problem maintaining chemistry with Ben Affleck onscreen and I must admit there were moments when I thought he turned into Matt Damon which is by no means a knock on either actor. Like Hamm, I would like to see Renner continue to expand his brand with different types of roles because any pretty boy can make a bad ass look good.
The Town gets a strong recommendation due to the fact that it is so well performed as a cast, that it has become the closest film to approach the measuring stick for all crime drama: Heat (1995). The action is attractive, the dialogue is meaningful and despite Ben Affleck’s best efforts to make this film all about him (lead actor, director and writer) his ego does not cause this film to falter in any way. But that’s not to say that such a thing will never happen because a cast with this kind of strength is not assembled every day. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during the interrogation scene and listening to Affleck direct Hamm while he was handcuffed. I’m certain the first leer Hamm shot to Affleck sent a shiver down his spine. My friends, Ben Affleck is not awesome.