Ben Affleck’s sophomore effort as director sees him return to the Boston setting he knows so well. After sticking behind the camera for Gone Baby Gone, he enhances his own acting comeback in a lead role. It has similarities to how he first made his breakthrough with Good Will Hunting.
Long time thief Doug Macray considers leaving his robbing profession behind after developing feelings for the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) his team took hostage on their previous job. With the FBI closing in on him and his crew, MaCray finds leaving his Boston neighbourhood may cost him everything.
The Charlestown suburb of Boston has a reputation as a hotbed for armed robbers and robberies. Affleck fashions a community where the town’s sons are passed down their criminal profession through generations. This ‘it ain’t nothing but a family thing’ conceit is designed to fashion sympathy for these characters, who only ever leave the neighbourhood to commit their crimes.
Clearly the aim is to create a crime drama in the essence of Heat and although it is above average, it suffers in comparison to Michael Mann’s crime opus. The film also struggles to replicate the characters on the right side of the law. John Hamm’s FBI man has an eternally flummoxed expression and would he really spend so much time chasing down a single armed robber when Pete Postlethwaite’s chilling crime boss is well known?
As a director, Affleck shows a strong cinematic edge. The heist scenes carry a real visceral energy as hand held cameras bring the audience into the centre of the action. However his over-reliance on the helicopter shot to emphasise scope of vision begins to grate after an hour. His character also has the most artificial feel. Only falling into armed robbery after his dreams of an ice hockey career collapsed, he is a little too charming.
His relationship with Hall’s Claire Keesey and his character’s fate are rooted in the realms of Hollywood fantasy but do provide the acting highlights of the film. The director/actor supplies two moments of quality that you would have scarcely thought believable when he was starring in Gigli. The eclectic cast is rounded off by Jeremy Renner and Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively who play the out of control brother and sister who represent Doug’s old life and hang over his dreams of escape like a violent spectre. The Bostonian accents are so heavy at times, you almost need some subtitling.
If anything the Town merely confirms Ben Affleck’s Lazarus like comeback from cinema’s persona non grata. Not a classic by any more means, but it punches well above its weight.