Film Review with Robert Mann – The Town

The Town ****½

As an actor Ben Affleck has never been a favourite of movie critics, or anyone for that matter, and, in spite of a few arguably good performances (although not everyone will agree with me on this), his reputation is one of simply not being able to act at all. To borrow from a certain song featured in Team America: World Police, it’s “like Ben Affleck needs acting school”.

Admittedly he is not one of the best actors around and his name is more likely to be synonymous with total dreck like Gigli than anything remotely good. Frankly, after that film everyone thought that was it for Affleck but Hollywood can really surprise you as demonstrated by the manner in which he has managed to rebuild his career by making the move to the other side of the camera. You see, it is easy to forget that Ben Affleck is actually an Academy Award winner, not for acting of course but for screenwriting. Alongside best friend Matt Damon, Affleck co-won the 1998 Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for his work on their breakthrough film Good Will Hunting and only back in 2007 did Affleck make the move back behind the camera again to both direct and co-write the critically acclaimed Boston set child kidnapping drama Gone Baby Gone, a film that didn’t prove successful commercially but made a real impact critically, showing that while Affleck may not be one of the best actors around, he is actually a pretty good director. And now for his second directorial effort he has returned to Boston to make The Town, a crime thriller based on the Chuck Hogan novel Prince of Thieves, a film for whose tagline reads “Welcome to the bank robbery capital of America” and whose poster features the rather chilling image of a group of bank robbers carrying out a robbery dressed up as nuns, two things that have seemingly made a big impact in America where this film (which also sees Affleck returning to acting, playing the leading role here) has not only delivered his second straight critical smash but is also proving to be a box office force to be reckoned with. Ben Affleck is back and better than ever.

Every year there are over 300 bank robberies in the city of Boston – and most of the professional criminals responsible live in the same square mile neighbourhood named Charlestown. Following in the footsteps of his incarcerated father Stephen (Chris Cooper), Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) leads a particularly ruthless crew – whose members include his long time best friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) – who pride themselves on stealing what they want and getting out clean. Everything changes, however, when the gang briefly take a hostage – bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Though they let her go unharmed, Claire is nervously aware that the robbers know her name and where she lives. But she lets her guard down when she meets an attractive stranger named Doug – not realising he is the same man who terrorised her only days earlier. The attraction between them becomes a passionate but, as FBI agents Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver) close in on the group and crime boss ‘Fergie’ (Pete Postlethwaite) threatens Claire’s life, their romance threatens to take them both down a potentially fatal path.

While being far from the most original of crime thrillers in terms of its themes and storyline, the strong execution on display in The Town makes it one of the better films to be released in this genre in quite some time. If Ben Affleck was need of a big comeback this is most definitely it as it sees him not only excel once again in the areas of writing and direction but also return to headlining as an actor in a big way, with his performance here easily being among the best in his career to date. It isn’t just Affleck himself who shines, though, but literally the entire cast. British actress Rebecca Hall, who does a very good American accent, is more than just a damsel in distress as the romantic interest of the piece, her character being integral to the story and the relationship between Claire and Doug vitally being completely believable, thanks to a strong chemistry with Affleck and a great performance in her own right. Star of the moment (he’s being cast in everything from Mission: Impossible IV to superhero movie The Avengers) Jeremy Renner is also excellent, completely convincing as a borderline psychopath whose loyalty to his friend is unwavering. Jon Hamm is slick, suave and confident as the FBI agent who will stop at nothing to catch the bad guys. The ever versatile Pete Postlethwaite makes for a somewhat unlikely but entirely convincing crime boss. And Chris Cooper, in an all too limited role, is superb as the incarcerated father. Not only that but the cast also includes a very against type Blake Lively who really proves that she has what it takes to succeed as a serious actress in the role of Krista Coughlin, James’ sister and Doug’s ex girlfriend, a character who also proves integral to the plot as the story unfolds. And as the story unfolds it does not disappoint. Affleck, along with co-writers Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, has created a plot that treads familiar territory on numerous occasions and doesn’t really bring any new ideas to the fold yet still manages to avoid seeming familiar or clichéd. The plot is thoroughly engaging with story developments all being substantial and relevant and every single character, each of whom is more than sufficiently developed and has several levels to them, has a role to play in events with even bit players contributing to the overall storyline in some significant fashion, something which is a major strength. The writing also delivers a strong level of authenticity with the dialogue the actors are required to speak sounding completely authentic and streetwise as necessary, ensuring that everything that is spoken and that everything that happens rings true and is completely believable. Only occasionally does something in the writing let the film down with certain pieces of explanatory dialogue occasionally seeming a bit forced but these are not enough to destroy the realism of the film as a whole. Realism is something that is key to the success of this film. All the robbery sequences and firefights feature a level of violence that is brutally realistic without being needlessly graphic and have a distinct raw and gritty feel to them, something that makes us believe that this kind of thing could happen in real life – in fact, it almost certainly has – and not only that but they are also very thrilling too. Most importantly perhaps though is that the violence is never gratuitous, the action sequences being integral to the storyline rather than just being action for the sake of action. One highlight, involving the group carrying out a robbery of an armoured truck dressed up as nuns (the same sequence featured on the poster art), even proves slightly chilling as well. The success of most of this can be attributed to Affleck himself, with him having found an area of filmmaking where he truly does excel. Overall, The Town is as taut, riveting, gripping and thrilling a crime thriller as you could hope for and if Ben Affleck can continue to deliver the high standard seen in his writing, directing and even his acting here, his future films should be ones to get really excited about.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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