Not only does Affleck once again demonstrate his skills behind the camera, he also gives arguably the best performance of his career.
Anyone who thought Ben Affleck’s talent as a filmmaker was a fluke and that Gone Baby Gone was pure luck will be proven wrong with The Town, easily the most suspenseful and riveting film of the year. Not only does Affleck once again demonstrate his skills behind the camera, he also gives arguably the best performance of his career.
The film is based on the novel, Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan. Though the feature film required a name change for obvious reasons, The Town more accurately signifies the focus of the movie versus the book. Fans of the novel will be surprised at the drastic changes made by Affleck, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard. While the plot is essentially the same, the story has changed significantly.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a bank robber who was born and raised in Charlestown, the neighborhood of Boston that has produced more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere in the country. The film opens with Doug and his team pulling a job at a local branch early in the morning. The manager of the bank, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), is taken as a hostage by Jem (Jeremy Renner), Doug’s best friend and the most volatile member of the crew.
After the job, the crew gets nervous when they find out Claire lives in Charlestown. Doug volunteers to keep an eye on her, but through a chance encounter gets a little closer than he initially intended. To make matters worse, Claire has also been working with FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who is an expert in bank robbers and takes each case just a bit too seriously. As Doug becomes more attached to Claire, he has to prevent himself from revealing too much while also making sure she doesn’t give the FBI anything useful. Meanwhile, Jem seems ready to explode waiting for another job, which compounds Doug’s trepidation tenfold.
Though Affleck and his co-writers have taken considerable liberties with Hogan’s novel, they have crafted the story in the only way that could work successfully on film. The focus is now completely on Doug and his interpretation of the events. (In the novel, Doug, Claire and Frawley all have major storylines and alternate having the story told from each of their points of view.) Now, Doug is the central character and as such the world of the film is seen through his eyes. Agent Frawley is the stereotypical lawman who is pissed off for no reason and hates criminals with vehemence that is wholly unnecessary. Claire is a damsel in distress who needs rescuing, never mind that the person doing the rescuing is the man who abducted her. Even Doug’s crew is made up of stock characters: the live wire, Jem; the guy who can boost any car, Gloansy (Slaine); and the nervous tech guy, Dez (Owen Burke).
Affleck gives a superb performance as the deeply conflicted and exhausted bank robber who just wants to get out of the Town. He is sick of the people and his life and is desperate to break free. Claire presents an opportunity for a new life for Doug, but first he must find a way to extract himself from his old life. Ben Affleck “the movie star” is nowhere to be seen in The Town. He is gaunt, worn down and has a constant look of fear behind his eyes. Without a doubt, Affleck is the only actor for this role.
Hamm is terrific as Frawley, an FBI Agent who isn’t afraid to bend a few rules to get what he wants. Hall brings a perfect balance of vulnerability and strength to Claire. She is clearly hurting throughout most of the film but does her best to hide it from Doug and even from herself. Renner is once again the actor you can’t take your eyes off of because of the energy and passion he puts into his characters. He runs at a manic pace for most of the movie, but in those few moments when he comes back down to earth, we see a truly gifted actor at work.
The three movies that Affleck has had a hand in writing or directing (Good Will Hunting, Gone Baby Gone and now The Town) have all been set in Boston. After this movie, some critics will accuse Affleck of being scared to leave his comfort zone. But why should he? He clearly loves Boston (which comes across in his work) and he finds a new way to feature the myriad faces of the city in each film. No one ever told Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen to leave New York, so why should Affleck leave the town that has been so good to him? | Matthew F. Newlin