Ben Affleck is a constant topic of discussion for people in the film industry. A quick look at his films shows us that he’s a sucker for big-money action thrillers, e.g. Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, The Sum of All Fears; that he’s open to most types of films, shown in, amongst others, his roles in pretty much every Kevin Smith film to date; that his radar on potentially atrocious films doesn’t work very well on occasion – see Daredevil, Gigli or Paycheck; and that he’s actually a hugely talented screenwriter (Good Will Hunting) and director (Gone, Baby, Gone) And so we come to his latest foray in the director’s chair, The Town. I’m not sure if there’s gonna be major *SPOILERS* or not in this, but I’m gonna go ahead and tag it so anyway.
Set in a slum of Boston, Massachusetts, this film concentrates on four friends who also happen to be thieves, primarily of bank delivery vans, or in some cases the banks themselves. It is one of these bank robberies that the film opens on, after the obligatory fleeting shots of Boston. Affleck plays the main flawed hero as well as being the director of the film, and this is quickly shown in the actions of the other three members of the gang around him, when, more often than not, they will do what they’re told by him, although not always quietly.
It is in this bank robbery where we meet Affleck’s love interest for the film, the impressive Rebecca Hall, working in the bank. I recognised her from Starter for 10 and The Prestige, the latter of which is a bloody great film that I recommend everyone to see, but a quick look at her IMDb profile shows that she has starred with a surprisingly wide range of actors, from working under Woody Allen and with Scarlett Johansson and newly-weds Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and with Michael Sheen and Kevin Bacon in Frost/Nixon, whilst one interesting pairing is her with Andrew Garfield, an up-and-coming actor who’s star of the Facebook film The Social Network and has just been cast as Peter Parker in the Spiderman reboot, in Red Riding Hood.
The chemistry between Affleck’s character Doug MacRay and Hall’s, Claire Keesey, is apparent from the offset, and the relationship that they develop is believable, which is rare in itself in movies nowadays. At the beginning of the film, I was drawing comparisons with Point Break, given that they’re both heist movies, and very similar in some plot points, including the disguises that both gangs wear, but to compare the two would be a disrespect to this. Point Break, of course, was directed by Kathryn Bigelow of Hurt Locker fame, which starred Jeremy Renner, seen here playing Ben Affleck’s best friend James Coughlin very well, exhibiting negative characteristics which will undoubtedly leave him labelled a bad character, a flawed individual who will probably be seen as the antagonist. Whilst this is slightly harsh, it is probably accurate, but his acting was very impressive, which pleased me given that, as regular readers will recognise, I picked up on when I mentioned Hurt Locker in a post back in March.
Concentrating on the rest of the supporting cast, some familiar faces pop up. Mad Men’s John Hamm plays a big role as the FBI agent tasked with finding the perpetrators who committed the robberies, and he impresses throughout. I’ve always found his acting first-rate, though I’ve not seen him in all that much, so I’m hoping that this is the start of him branching out into more main-stream movies. His partner at the FBI is played by Titus Welliver, famed for playing the ‘Man in Black’ in Lost, and he is criminally underused. Where we do see him, we can see flashes of his acting prowess, but, whilst he was never the best actor in Lost, he made the character his own, and unfortunately I don’t think he’s going to get the credit he deserves. We’ll see.
A somewhat surprising casting choice in this film, for me at least, was that of Pete Postlethwaite. Known primarily for his roles in The Usual Suspects and Alien 3, cropping up in a completely unrelated series of films like Solomon Kane, Romeo + Juliet and The Omen remake, and his prolonged portrayal of Hakeswill in the Sharpe series. Postlethwaite has never been described as a blockbuster actor, and yet he’s been in two of the best films of the year, this and Inception, and was also in Clash of the Titans. He’s an established actor, and his character had depth and an intriguing side to him, playing what he thought was a father figure to Affleck.
All in all, this was a great piece of direction from Affleck, leading on from his Oscar-nominated Gone, Baby, Gone, and he directs himself, as well as the rest of the ensemble cast, impressively. Very few of the actors on show here are household names, and yet what has been produced here is a two hour film that flies by, and is, as far as I’m concerned at least, one of the films of the year, and I won’t be surprised if, come February 2011, this has won another Oscar for Ben Affleck.