The Town

Ben Affleck's directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, was an unexpected delight- assured, authentic, and relatively taut. The plot, from Dennis "Boston is the new Purgatory" Lehane, got a little murky in the end; Ben's brother Casey and Amy Ryan had to work overtime to cover for weak performances elsewhere, but such flaws were easy to overlook after going in with one eyebrow raised skeptically.

Expectations for his sophomore effort, The Town then, were considerably higher- tempering them once again is his decision to take the lead in front of the camera as well. Despite quiet, solid work in Hollywoodland, State Of Play, and Extract his last leading role was in Jersey Girl, at the height of Bennifer-related inanity.

But he's more than up to the task- The Town trades some of Gone Baby Gone's atmospheric intensity for straightforward heist action, and Affleck himself plays a solid leading man, but is an even better casting agent- every supporting role is superbly cast and superbly inhabited.


The film starts with perhaps fancifully enhanced claims about Boston's Charlestown neighborhood producing more bank robbers per captia than anywhere else. That may not be true (at least since the Irish mob was gentrified out in the 90s), but The Town does an excellent job at drawing from the real-life close knit feel of the place to create a fictional, moody haven for thugs and hard-living wiseguys.

It's a different flavor than the Boston of Scorsese's The Departed (almost clinically austere in comparison) or the hidden malice lurking in Gone Baby Gone (which turns out to be a smokescreen). The cops in The Town's Charlestown turn their heads when the odds aren't in their favor, everyone (except Affleck's character) drinks and does oxy or coke. The cloudy sky rushes over the Bunker Hill Monument in time-lapse in two different shots- life goes on in twilight.

Piercing the clouds, and literally mentioning sunny days in key dialogue, is Rebecca Hall's love interest. She gives it her best, but the role isn't really there. Affleck's foursome of masked bank robbers takes her briefly hostage to begin the film, and the ensuing romance, unknowingly with one of her captors, never feels real enough to be worth the reveal we all know is coming. Hall's gift might be for wry understatement (like in Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Please Give), but I felt like she might have sold the melodrama of this part if it had more depth to it.

The time spent on the love interest, then, seems like the main culprit that deprives us of more time spent with Affleck's livewire best friend, an ex-convict brought to life beyond the cliche by Jeremy Renner.

Or perhaps we could have gotten more time with Jon Hamm's squinting, bluntly smug FBI-agent as he rapidly closes in. The "Mad Men" breakout star absolutely nails the one face-off he and Affleck have, and gains steam as the film goes on and we see he's just as unconcerned with the people that get in his way as any bank robber.

But if those characters seem underutilized, Chris Cooper's single scene as Affleck's incarcerated father and Blake Lively's handful of key moments as Affleck's former flame are perfectly paced and timed. Cooper's scene is almost a brief intermission, halfway through the film, that underplays a key plot element and leaves a realistic amount unspoken- Lively is perhaps the most memorable of the entire casy, if only because her raw performance is the least expected.

There's something unyieldingly linear about The Town that I admire the more I think about it. It ends with a minor flourish, but the majority of the screenplay establishes clear stakes, sets us dramatic revelations for the last third of the film (all of which are thankfully not overdone in the slightest), and then leaves the heavy lifting for the more-than-capable cast.

As perhaps unexpectedly autuer-like Affleck has been as a director so far, it helps that he started out as an internationally famous movie star- The Town boasts the same cinematographer (Robert Elswit) and editor (Dylan Tichenor) of P. T. Anderson's There Will Be Blood, Oscar nominees (with Elswit winning) for their work. (This after double winner John Toll lensed Gone Baby Gone). The result is a film seamless in aesthetic and pace, making the possibility of a Best Picture nomination seem less and less like a longshot.

In a slow September, it's easy to recommend an artful, gripping thriller like The Town.

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