Ben Affleck gets a lot of crap from some people. I am not entirely sure why. He didn’t really do much. Yes, sure, he made a few bad movies, but so did DeNiro and Pacino and Brando. Sure, he fell in love with a pop star, but that certainly doesn’t make you a bad person. It seems to stem from the fact that he and Matt Damon hit a home run with one of their first movies, Good Will Hunting, and earned Oscars at an early age.
I happen to like Affleck. I think he has shown he can be a very impressive actor. He was very good in Good Will Hunting. He was excellent in the movie Changing Lanes with Samuel L. Jackson. I still rank Chasing Amy among one of my all-time favorite films. He also turned in an impressive performance as Christopher Reeve in Hollywoodland. Let’s not forget Boiler Room, Dogma and Shakespeare in Love. Yes, he made some stinkers, but who cares?
A few years back he made his directorial debut. The result was the remarkable detective movie Gone Baby Gone. I enjoyed that movie thoroughly. I was impressed by the no-frills way Affleck directed. Too many young directors try to impress everyone by doing weird camera tricks and shoving the fact that it’s a movie in the face of the audience. Affleck managed to do what great directors do which is coax a great performance out of his actors and let the camera record the events.
Affleck is now behind the camera again in the movie The Town. This time, however, he has also elected to star in the role. I am very happy to say that this not only marks the return of the Ben Affleck who is an excellent actor, but confirms that Affleck has the chops to be a great director.
Affleck has pulled together a most impressive cast. The great thing about it is that not one of them strikes a false note. All of them are excellent, allowed to shine in some great scenes, and each character is well-rounded, well-thought-out, and someone you care about. It is a remarkable piece of film-making and an excellent entry into the world of the gangster/heist/bad-guys-as-main-characters genres.
The movie opens by telling us that the neighborhood in Boston known as Charlestown produces more armoured car and bank robbers than anywhere else. In fact, robbing banks and cars is passed down from one generation to another. Within this world the man named Doug MacKray heads a crew of bank robbers who work for a man known as “The Florist.”
The move opens with Doug and his crew robbing a bank. The burst in wearing scary skull masks. They take the bank manager, played by Rebecca Hall, and force her to open the vaults. Then they take her hostage, blindfolding her. This is just after she has seen a tell-tale tattoo on the back of the neck of Jem (Jeremy Renner), the one loose cannon and best-friend of Doug.
Doug goes to check on Claire to see if she knows anything and has spoken to the FBI. He soon discovers how badly she has been affected by the hold-up. He also suddenly sees a vastly different future for himself than he has ever envisioned for himself before. He does what he should never do and he falls in love.
Also involved is Jon Hamm who plays the relentless FBI agent Adam Frawley. Frawley wants to take down this crew because of how efficiently and well-planned their heists are. He knows who is doing them, but he cannot get the evidence to prove it.
Then the Florist decides that he wants the crew to do another job. This is just after another job, involving the scariest nun-masks you are likely to ever see, has not gone well. This leads to one of the scariest and most-intense car chase scenes I have seen in a long time. It is obvious Affleck has learned from the directors who have guided him in their movies. I had no idea that there were Boston neighborhoods with roads that narrow and buildings that close to the road. It is an excellent sequence.
The movie does a great job of building the tension. A scene where Claire and Doug are having lunch only to be interrupted by Jem is one that has nearly nail-biting tension. The way Affleck handles whether or not Claire will see the telltale tattoo is almost worthy of Hitchcock.
Finally, in a role that goes against anything she has done before, Blake Lively plays Jem’s sister and Doug’s old flame. It is also strongly hinted that he is the father of her child. She is amazingly powerful as a woman whose entire life has gone off the rails and she has descended into drug-abuse and self-loathing. Her one-on-one scene with Jon Hamm followed by a heartbreaking scene in a hospital shows she has real potential.
Jeremy Renner as Jem manages to look almost the same as he did in The Hurt Locker and yet, entirely different. He is truly showing that he deserved the awards he got for that film. Every time he is on the screen you never know what is going to happen and he electrifies the screen. He is proving, very rapidly, that he is one of the most talented young actors around these days.
The movie is probably not the greatest of the year. However, if you are looking for a movie about bank robbers with plenty of tension, action and three-dimensional characters, then this is the movie for you. Affleck is back as an actor and once again, shows that he has a great future as a director. I am looking forward with great interest to see what he decides to do next.