I would hope that after his directorial debut GONE BABY GONE, no one would question whether or not Ben Affleck can direct a movie, but if there were any naysayers out there, THE TOWN should quiet them. It’s not that Affleck did anything spectacular with THE TOWN in terms of creative filming or specific editing decisions, what makes Affleck so great as a filmmaker is his understanding of how to pace a movie perfectly. He then uses that pacing to tell a great story that people want to see and does it in a manner that milks the intensity in every scene.
As Doug MacRay, Ben Affleck is a former local hero turned bank robber in a small Boston town known for its bank robbers. When his hot headed best friend and accomplice Jim (Jeremy Renner) takes a hostage on a bank robbery, Doug is forced to keep tabs on the hostage to make sure she didn’t see anything that could indict them. That hostage happens to be the beautiful Claire, played by the up and coming Rebecca Hall. As luck would have it, Doug and Claire start a relationship that’s doomed to fail as they take flack from both Jim and a determined FBI agent (Jon Hamm). Although bank robberies play a big part in this film, the movie is more about the character growth of Doug, who is constantly torn between his old life, filled with violence and thugs, and dreams of a new life with the beautiful Claire.
I loved the way Affleck used Jim and Claire as exact opposites in the film by having Claire represent the hope and innocence lacking in Doug’s life and Jim representing the chain keeping him tied to the life he doesn’t want. This conflict is both external and internal for Doug, but it’s the driving force in the film and what all the decisions are based on. There was a scene where Doug asked Jim for help in taking care of some thugs that had harassed Claire and that was the turning point when Doug realized he had to find a way to leave that life behind. It was a great, pivotal scene in the film and Affleck shot it perfectly.
He also did a great job with the bank robberies and subsequent chase scenes. Although used differently, they rivaled the great scene in HEAT as far as intensity and complexity. But Affleck’s greatest achievement in the film came in the ending as he managed to wrap up a wonderfully told character arc in a way that was both fitting and believable. As great as his directing was, I have to hand it to Ben Affleck the actor as he turned in his best performance since GOOD WILL HUNTING, proving he’s grown a lot and continues to be an underrated actor when it comes to his range. He went from tough to sensitive to funny and back to tough in a quick two hours, each time keeping the audience involved.
Movies involving bank robberies are far too common these days, but the ones that manage to tell a good story and develop complex characters are usually the ones that stand out from the rest. Essentially, that’s what makes THE TOWN so great. I cared about everyone involved and was anxious to see where Affleck was going to take us next. He was aided by some great performances from his cast, but Affleck has officially landed as a director and re-landed as an actor.