I’ve made it a point not to understand people who don’t like Ben Affleck. The guy is charming and has never been hesitant to poke fun at himself (“Word, bitch! Phantoms like a motherfucker!” he proudly proclaims in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). But he did a good job of silencing the haters with 2007 directorial debut Gone Baby Gone. Of course, then came the chorus, “He should just stay behind the camera!” Now with his new film The Town, he’s directing and starring and he does a great job at both. While his new effort isn’t quite the emotional powerhouse he delivered with Gone Baby Gone, The Town is a thrilling ride that’s worth taking.
Some towns produce great athletes, some towns produce great scientists, and Charlestown, Massachusettes produces great bank robbers. The city has the highest number of bank robberies per capita. The Town centers on one crew of bank robbers led by Doug MacRay (Affleck). After one heist, the crew decides to take a hostage (Rebecca Hall) just in case they’re tracked down by the fuzz during their getaway. After making their escape and releasing the hostage without any problems, they discover that she lives in Charlestown and can possibly indentify them. Doug decides to get close to her to make sure she doesn’t talk and the two begin to develop a romantic relationship (although it remains unknown to her that he was one of her captors). That conceit strains credulity but the chemistry between Affleck and Hall makes it work. Of course, external forces including MacRay’s hot-headed best friend (Jeremy Renner) and a relentless FBI agent (Jon Hamm) threaten to not only put a halt to this bizarre love story, but to land Doug in jail for the rest of his life.
The Town is permeated with brutal fatalism. We see these men whose fathers taught them the trade of bank robbery, which is exciting to watch but deadly to practice. Affleck’s direction is spot-on as he creates breathlessly exciting heist scenes, but has the restraint to let the actors carry the rest of the film. The script does rely a bit too heavily on characters stating exactly what they want or what another character wants, but the cast turns in strong work and holds our attention through the matter-of-fact dialogue.
However, the film is almost so tight that it could use a little time to breathe and give little moments to supporting characters. Jon Hamm’s FBI agent is never given time to be anything more than just a raging ass-hole and we don’t know why he hates bank robbers with the fury most people reserve for murderers and rapists. Blake Lively plays a spurned love interest of Doug’s, but the character is absent from the movie until the third act. While we always know where every character is coming from, the script and the pacing has some trouble naturally getting there.
But this is a minor complaint when stacked up against Affleck’s strong lead performance and serious directing chops. Gone Baby Gone is the stronger overall film, but the three action scenes of The Town are filled with so much excitement, drama, and comedy that they made me wonder what Affleck could do with a straight-up action film rather than contained action scenes in an intimate crime drama. With The Town, Affleck has established himself as directing talent to be reckoned with and serves up a reminder that his acting skills shouldn’t be disregarded. But if you still want to hold on to your bizarre Affleck-hate, you’re only hurting yourself if you pass on this solid drama.