Ben Affleck is one of those guys that I just can’t figure out. He does something astoundingly brilliant, then goes and shoots himself in the foot by doing something utterly awful. His second stint in the director’s chair brings us ‘The Town’, to which he also penned the screenplay. Despite my slight reservations, I had really high hopes for this film as a result of various recommendations and thankfully, it delivered emphatically.
Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the head of an organised crime movement in the heart of Boston, leading a group of men who are experts in their field – their field being bank and truck robberies. When a heist goes wrong, they are forced to take bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. MacRay must go incognito and pay her a follow-up visit to test her resolve. Unaware of their previous connection, Claire falls for MacRay and he likewise falls for her, leaving him with a conflict of interests as his criminal past rapidly begins to catch up with him.
This isn’t a film that has Oscar-winning performances or a storyline full of twists. ‘The Town’ is, plain and simple, a very good film; it ticks all the boxes of the perfect crime-thriller and it’s as simple as that. The storyline – although slightly predictable in places – is brilliant, allowing characters to exhibit just about every single emotion going, and as a result it really does mess with the audience and our expectations. An undeniably dark and gritty tone underpins this spectrum of emotion, and the setting of Charlestown, Boston – renowned for producing vast numbers of criminals – is perfect for this tale of desperation. That hopelessness that forces people into a life of crime is present in every single character. MacRay has found a respectable woman that he loves, but he can’t escape the clutches of his crime roots. The character that most epitomises that desperation, however, is Krista Coughlin (played by Blake Lively), who is placed in the most unenviable of positions later on in the narrative (no spoilers here, you’ll have to watch it and find out). I was shocked to see Lively in such a role, as I’ve only really seen her in ‘Gossip Girl’ before, and this character could not be further from her role in the hit TV series. She is completely unrecognisable in that respect, and as a result, I think it was her performance that fascinated me the most. Despite her limited screen time, I was genuinely shocked by her appearance and demeanour.
Whilst Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm (who stars as FBI agent Frawley) and the late Pete Postlethwaite (as an Irish drug lord) all turn in superb performances, the other star of the show, for me, was Jeremy Renner. Aesthetically speaking, he is pretty offensive and rough-around-the-edges, and as the film kicks in, his character becomes even more repulsive. I loved this performance in particular because it has absolutely everything, and if you had told me by the end of the film that his character would have invoked the emotional response in me that he did, I would never have believed you. Renner’s Oscar nomination for this role was well deserved and this is, without a doubt, one of the most complete performances I have seen in recent years. It really is no coincidence that Renner went on to big things after this film.
Whilst Affleck impresses on the acting front, he is nonetheless outdone by others who take the onscreen limelight. His outstanding contribution to this film then, comes from behind the camera. With the gritty tone that the film exhibits throughout, it was essential that the action scenes continued in the same vein. They do, and then some. Indeed, the success of this film lies with its fantastic action scenes. The claustrophobic frame is a key component, with a lot of the action sequences taking part in the back of a car, or a small room, so as a viewer we really get a front-row seat of the criminals in action. It should also be noted that Affleck’s writing, and the work of the costume design team, combine to bring us the iconic nun disguise, which will burn in your memory for a good while.
‘The Town’ is a very good film. The script and the plot are both fantastic, it all flows really well – giving no respite from the ruthless nature of the environment we find ourselves in – and with such an impressive ensemble of actors performing to such a consistently high level throughout, it all adds to the awe that this film inspires. A journey through the slums of Boston has never looked so good.
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm