While Casey Affleck’s terrible faux documentary flounders about in cinemas on lonely screens with nobody going to see it, brother Ben is going to be in with the big hitters in this slow September period with his follow up to directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, The Town.
Similarly set in Boston, although shifted to the Charlestown area which is proudly announced at the opening as producing the most bank robbers in the world, The Town follows Doug MacRay, a bank robber who during one heist takes hostage the female bank manager Claire, with whom he begins to form a relationship. Keeping his true identity secret from her, he is trying to balance his new life whilst trying to pull off a final job and the ever looming threat of FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm).
It is a classically structured thriller, bringing elements from the masterpieces of the heist genre especially Michael Mann’s Heat and sticking to some of those hammered old cliches: the dynamic between Cop and Criminal, the final job before fleeing to Mexico with the cash, the corrupting factor among the crooks etc.
It’s all there and Affleck is perhaps the right guy to do this stripped down and exciting action thriller. After doing something fairly tough going in Gone Baby Gone, this is Affleck letting go a bit and having fun. All power to him because the film is fun for the audience. If the film was no fun the niggling conveniences and contrivances in the plot, as well as the overly sentimental ending, could have been much more of a problem. Affleck as director does however manage to give us a large amount of engaging dramatic substance that allowed me to overlook them.
He gives us some fantastic chase and action sequences which are terrifically edited and photographed by Paul Thomas Anderson regulars: Dylan Tichenor and Robert Elswit respectively. The scenes succeed in crafting a mixture of tension and edge of your seat thrills that are pretty much pitch perfect in terms of pacing. It’s nice to see a director who has the strength of his convictions and hold an action sequence down for a good 10 minutes while really letting loose but never forgetting the emotional core of the drama.
Some of the performances are terrific, particularly those of the supporting characters whether it be Rebecca Hall or Mad Men’s Jon Hamm or Pete Postlethwaite, who oozes magnanimous evil into every brief scene he features. Affleck has clearly focused upon his direction rather than acting, while his performance is perfectly decent, it is no more than that however.
In some scenes he is better than others, his more emotional scenes are oddly more convincing than his grunting scenes with his band of crooks. Too often he mumbles lines, but his speech is not nearly as incomprehensible as Jeremy Renner. Despite having an air of brooding menace, Renner speaks entirely in grunts and gravelled sentences, very rarely is any of the things he is saying is discernible. Hamm I think is an incredibly charismatic actor and when he is offscreen I want more of him, the interplay between himself and Affleck’s character is electric, and more of it needs to be there.
As a classic Hollywood thriller it succeeds on most levels, the cop vs criminal interplay is not as thought out as it could have been but its evocation of Boston rivals Martin Scorsese’s urban gangster drama The Departed. It’s a strong compliment, and the film lives up to comparison.