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The Town: Affleck Continues To Bring The Heat

The name “Ben Affleck” has been used the last few years usually in conjunction with the phrase “bad actor.” Now that he’s adding directing to his repertoire, he’s reinvented his image to one of prestige. After directing Gone Baby Gone, which got an Academy Award nomination, and now The Town, which is as entertaining a genre film as we’ve seen all year, Affleck proves that he was nowhere near a one-hit wonder. Not only is he one of the most promising new directors on the scene, but he’s fantastic at getting great work out of his actors. What’s even more surprising, his experiences as a director seem to be elevating the quality of his acting as well, as he carries the film ably, giving one of his finest performances to date. The Town isn’t anything new, but it’s tense, surprisingly funny, and marvelously acted, making Affleck’s directorial record two for two.

Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) was born and raised in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston where most of the bank robbers responsible for the 300 bank robberies in Boston each year are from. (This “fact” the film tells us is the most ludicrous part of the film– it gets significantly better from there.) He inherited the family business, robbing banks and armored cars with his childhood friends Jem (Jeremy Renner), Dez (Owen Burke), and Gloansy (Slaine). Jem is becoming a loose cannon, insisting on taking a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage until they escape. When Doug goes to check up on her to see if she saw anything through her blindfold, he’s immediately taken by her sweetness and fragility– he sees her as something pure, something that can finally get him away from this lifestyle. However, Jem insists on doing more jobs. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) closes in on them, questioning the manager, the boys, and Jem’s drugged-out sister (Blake Lively) in hopes of finding what he needs to bring them to justice.

This is all very similar material to other films in this one-last-job genre, particularly Heat and Set It Off. However, Affleck has a sure hand as a director, and he manages to balance the action with the character building scenes well, maintaining a through line of tension. One of the best scenes has Jem bump into Doug and the manager on a date. Jem doesn’t know that Doug and the manager have been dating. The manager doesn’t know that Doug and Jem are the ones who kidnapped her. Doug knows that the manager saw the tattoo on the back of Jem’s neck, and every time Jem turns his head slightly, he’s at risk of exposing himself. The characters speak with the casualness of a date interruption by a friend, but it’s full of the subtext and the tension that a great movie can earn. Every small shift of the head, every word spoken, every glimmer of the eye could expose the truth and effectively end their lives. Affleck fills the film with these moments.

Although the script has a couple of clunky one-liners (what genre film doesn’t?), Ben Affleck and Peter Craig’s writing is sharp. Though the tension never truly lets up, the film is surprisingly funny, with several laugh-out-loud moments. It’s never attempting for the audience guffaw, but rather the laughs come naturally from organic character reactions. The cinematography by Robert Elswit– one of the best cinematographers working– captures a beauty in Boston’s grit. I did wonder about the costume selection at times. I understand that there are many Irish-Americans in Boston and that Bostonians love sports… but did every character have to be wearing either an Irish or Boston sport related jacket in nearly every scene? Perhaps it’s closer to a reflection of reality than I give it credit for, but it felt at times like an affectation, as if Affleck was prodding us shouting “Remember? We’re in Boston!”

The performers carry the film. Everyone up and down the line is fantastic. Folks like Jeremy Renner, Chris Cooper, and Pete Postlethwaite we expect nothing less than great from, and they deliver. Hamm, coming from TV’s Mad Men, makes a strong case for more leading man roles in feature films here– he’s charming, funny, and oozing with authority. Rebecca Hall does very little wrong in her film selection, and it’s nice to see her in the spotlight in a studio film. Blake Lively from TV’s Gossip Girl is nothing short of stellar, taking a cliched role and effectively elevating it, giving it nuance and believability; she went in my eyes from potentially just another pretty-faced TV actor to someone who will likely stick around. But the real revelation is Affleck, who gives perhaps the best performance of his career. Is it just me, or as he gets older does he get more interesting? Early in his career he seemed more like your good-looking bar buddy– affable enough, but never compelling. He’s starting to twist his line deliveries and carry his physicality in a more assured way now, as if he’s committed to being a good artist more than a movie star. Many critics will almost certainly find something bad to say about Affleck in the future. In my eyes he’s earned a pass– The Town is exciting, funny, and thus far one of the better movies of the year.

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~ by russellhainline on September 24, 2010.

One Response to “The Town: Affleck Continues To Bring The Heat”

  1. […] Freida Pinto, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger 9. Marion Cotillard, Inception 8. Blake Lively, The Town 7. Helena Bonham Carter, The King’s Speech 6. Melissa Leo, The Fighter 5. Rebecca Hall, […]

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