Directed by Ben Affleck
Screenplay by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck as Doug MacRay
Rebecca Hall as Claire Keesey
Jon Hamm as FBI S.A. Adam Frawley
Jeremy Renner as James Coughlin
Blake Lively as Krista Coughlin
Slaine as Albert ‘Gloansy’ Magloan
Owen Burke as Desmond Elden
Titus Welliver as Dino Ciampa
Pete Postlethwaite as Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm
Chris Cooper as Stephen MacRay
An anxiety-inducing thriller with masterful performances and impressive screenwriting, ‘The Town’ likely signals Ben Affleck’s rise from the ashes.
There’s an old rumor that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck flipped a coin to decide which of them would play Will Hunting, the main character of their Oscar-winning script in 1997. Damon won this fabled coin-toss, and Good Will Hunting (Gus van Sant’s most popularly palatable movie thus far) was an indisputable success, thrusting Damon into stardom. Affleck has continued to take roles in mediocre-to-terrible films while Damon scored roles in the greats. Affleck turned to directing, and his previous directorial effort, gritty and wrenching Gone Baby Gone, was an Oscar contender. The actor is behind the camera again for The Town, another Boston based story of troubled-young-man-makes-amends. The movie is a suspenseful heist-romance with complex characters, brilliant action, and masterful performances. Affleck plays dual role of star and director, something seldom done well; nonetheless, The Town is easily one of the best movies of 2010. If all goes right, The Town will be for Affleck what Good Will Hunting was for Damon.
The Town is based in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston that’s produced more armored truck thieves and bank robbers than anywhere in the world. As the characters say, robbery has “become a trade, passed down from father to son.” Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his best friend Jim (Jeremy Renner) run one of the slickest theft operations in town, but then Doug finds himself drawn to bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), one of the only witnesses to their latest heist. With FBI Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) breathing down everyone’s neck and Jim becoming increasingly reckless, Doug falls for Claire and his world starts to crumble. The Florist (Pete Postlethwaite) is the puppeteer commanding the Town’s dealers and thieves, and when Doug wants out he finds his friends, family, and life in danger.
This all screams “yet another Dennis Lehane story with complex characters and an A-list cast,” none of which is bad. But The Town manages to pull off riveting, nerve-racking action right along with the sweetness of a new romance. It presents the audience with cookie-cutter roles (the out of control bad boy, the good kid gone bad, the underworld kingpin, the desperate druggie) and grants them unexpected depth. It combines Hitchcockian suspense with Bourne Identity action, and the final product is enthralling.
Affleck as MacRay is scarred but loyal, a muscular but basically placid man who could beat you within an inch of your life but probably won’t—unless you mess with his friends. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner seethes with rage that threatens to boil over and scald, turning every encounter into a shootout or a brutal beating. Brit actress Rebecca Hall’s adorable smile lights up the screen; Claire’s inherent goodness is in her every movement. Pete Postlethwaite, with a sinewy physique like tough leather, makes even the simplest gestures horribly malicious. “Mad Men”’s Jon Hamm plays a completely different character from Don Draper, with whom his name is becoming synonymous; stubbly, sweaty, dingy, and coarse, Frawley is an agent with an agenda that won’t be deterred. Even “Gossip Girl”’s Blake Lively, playing completely against type as a trashy, drugged out young mother in denim miniskirts and polyester halter tops, turns in an excellent performance.
The screenplay, written by Affleck, Gone Baby Gone’s Aaron Stockard, and Peter Craig, plays out marvelously. The spectator (and anyone who’s seen the trailer) already knows MacRay was behind the Skeletor mask holding Claire hostage, but of course Claire has no idea, and dialogue dripping with subtext is enough to make you grit your teeth. Claire knows one of her kidnappers has a Fighting Irish tattoo on the back of his neck, and the tattoo is the elephant in the room, strumming on the nerves like the concealed corpse in Rope. Constant references to the characters’ parents (including Stephen MacRay, played by a baggy-eyed Chris Cooper) remind the audience of the ties our characters have to the world they inhabit. Most of all, due to terrific writing and Affleck’s emotive performance, you’ll find yourself rooting for the criminal. The movie ends with a symmetry that’s almost too simple, but the termination is not implausible or sappy.
Editor Dylan Tichenor juxtaposes shots to their maximum nerve-racking effect while DP Robert Elswit (who notably worked with Tichenor on P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood) frames each shot for utmost comfort or anxiety. In a chase scene through the narrow through-streets of old Boston, the camera careens around corners, barely dodging a crash at every turn. Claire’s scenes portray her against soft yellows, vivid flowers, and clean whites, whereas MacRay is enclosed by harsh fluorescents, brutally sharp wrought iron gates, and grimy cinder-block. The mise-en-scène and art direction place you squarely in the characters’ world.
2010 has not been a good year for movies, but The Town ought to beat its fellow openers this weekend. In spite of an ending that feels a little bit Shawshank Redemption, the action, acting, and screenwriting will keep you in your seat. Sometimes the best way to gauge a movie is by audience reaction, and in the theater, fellow moviegoers were muttering at the screen, cursing under their breath, and audibly moving and sighing at the end of tense scenes. The Town may signal Affleck’s rise from the ashes, might launch Lively’s actual film career, and boosts Renner’s chances for another Oscar nomination. On top of that, it’s a tense, smart, thriller that’ll make you realize, hey, there are still good movies out there.