When Ben Affleck turned his hand to directing after years as an actor, most people thought it would blow up in his face. However, with Gone Baby Gone, a expertly crafted crime drama, Affleck proved everybody wrong.
Now he’s moved into his sophomore directorial effort entitled The Town and it proves that his debut wasn’t simply a fluke of some kind. This feature may not deliver the emotional gut punch that Gone Baby Gone did but it’s still a piece of work for Mr. Affleck to be extremely proud of.
The Town is set in the Charlestown area of Boston where, as some opening title cards tell us, is one of the most prolific places in the world when it comes to bank robberies.
We specifically follow Affleck’s Doug MacRay. a criminal with a heart of gold born and bred in the town of the title. He has a crew consisting of himself and three others who regularly knock of armoured trucks and, when the big time calls, one of the many local banks.
Things start to get more complicated than usual when during one of their robberies they take the assistant manager hostage but leave her unharmed. However, Doug falls for her and starts up a relationship, with his former hostage unaware he was one of the robbers.
It’s an interesting premise that puts a neat twist on an otherwise conventional tale of bank robbers and pulling off the perfect job. Affleck keeps a nice balance between the scenes of violence (sometimes strong but never gratuitous) and the robberies themselves and the relationship between Doug and Claire (the hostage). The latter seems truthful and honest, skilfully woven into the plot without it feeling forced or, perhaps most importantly, not feeling like it gets in the way of anything else (a trap so many movies fall into).
Affleck has assembled a stellar cast which along with himself (in one of his best performances) includes the likes of Jeremy Renner as Affleck’s hot-head best friend; Rebecca Hall as the unknowing former hostage Claire; Jon Hamm switching boozing and smoking on the TV series Mad Men for a badge and a gun as the FBI agent hunting down Affleck’s crew; and there’s an appearance, although very brief, from the great Chris Cooper as Affleck’s locked up father.
On top of delivering the dramatic goods in the scenes of heated conversations and whatnot, Affleck also proves he knows how to do action with a couple of superbly done robbery and shootouts scenes. It’s clear that Affleck has seen Michael Mann’s Heat more than once as the shootout scene smack in the middle of the film bears a striking resemblance, but it comes off as taking notes rather than ripping-off.
I guess it was kind of unfair to in any way doubt that Affleck wouldn’t deliver with his second film – I thought it might have been a case of beginner’s luck. However, Affleck has passed the test with flying colours and is now officially a force to be reckoned with in today’s directing world. The Town is well directed and superbly acted, with equal weight placed on both the thrills and the drama. It may wrap up at the end a tad too neatly and with more sentimentality than is probably needed but it’s not enough to make you forget what’s come before. Impressive filmmaking from Affleck and I can’t wait to see what he makes next – can he make it three in a row?