Most people wouldn’t know judging by his questionable acting pedigree (“Gigli” anyone?), but Ben Affleck is a surprisingly intelligent individual when it comes to contributing something to the movie industry. Need proof? In 1997, he won an Academy Award because of his co-writing credit (along with Matt Damon) on the brilliant “Good Will Hunting.” In the later half of 2007, he received critical acclaim with his feature-length directorial debut, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel Gone Baby Gone. Affleck has creative gifts that unfortunately have been overshadowed by his personal life, which I think is really too bad.
Now Affleck returns as director of “The Town,” which is based on the novel Prince of Thieves. Aside from directing, he also co-wrote the script and even gives a noteworthy performance to add to his resumé. The town that the title is alluding to is the crime-ridden Charlestown, located in Boston, Massachusetts. According to subtitles at the beginning of the film, no other town in the United States holds as many bank robbers and auto thieves as this tiny division in Boston. It is almost as if bank robbery is a skill passed down from older generation to younger generation.
Of the younger generation variety, we meet Doug MacRay (Affleck). The entire film plays around a complex four-person bank robbery scheme organized by him and his long time partner-in-crime Jem (Jeremy Renner) and is under the command of a “more-than-meets-the-eye” town florist (Peter Postlethwaite). However, through a series of miscalculations, these perpetrators become cautious of the bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall). They are concerned about how much she knows about their operation. Doug takes the initiative and surreptitiously befriends her and extracts information regarding her traumatic experience. Over time, these two develop somewhat of a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, an FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) is investigating the scene to expose this gang of misfits with concrete evidence, which to his dismay is difficult to come by.
Just like Affleck’s winning “Good Will Hunting,” the part that most grabbed my attention in the movie was the script. The interactions between characters, whether it be the best friend connection between Doug and Jem, or the blossoming relationship of Doug and Claire, are fully realized and fleshed out due to good writing. Character motivations become more logical as the characters are examined closer and dialogue sequences are just as intriguing as the action sequences.
Speaking of action sequences, Affleck also has accomplished something that still for some reason seems alien to most directors: making extended action scenes that are relevant as well as exciting. Aside from “Inception” and maybe a few others, we have not gotten very much of this throughout 2010. But these events are filmed with ease and directed with enough flair to keep you interested until the end of the sequence. Even the low-key direction is done right. Take for example a scene in which Doug, Claire and Jem are at an outdoor restaurant. Claire noticed that an assailant of the bank robbery had a Fighting Irish tattoo on his neck. Jem happens to be the guy. Tension is created not only within Doug, but among every member of the audience.
I might just appreciated “The Town” more on a technical level than on its own merit. It does fall into the trap of being a few too many minutes longer than it should be. But for the most part, I was entertained. Here is just more proof that Ben Affleck, for the most part, knows what he is doing when it comes to the craft of filmmaking. It’s also more proof that the city of Boston itself is a negative motif in all his movies, but nonetheless, I cannot wait to see what else this guy has up his sleeve. And judging by the number of people that lined up to see it last week, I am not the only one.