From between roughly 1998 till 2004, there was no worse Hollywood personality than Ben Affleck.
This is why The Town surprised me so. Since that time, he has tried to reinvent himself as a director, first by making the unseen by me (but well regarded by others) Hollywoodland. Now, he creates a film that tries to combine the best elements of Heat and The Departed.
But is it worthwhile? Yes. It is actually quite well directed and explores some good themes. It is as good as it needs to be. Yet Affleck was aiming for the stars, and did fall a tad short. This is one case where ambition ultimately feels more like a hindrance rather than an asset.
I do not blame the film for being as good as its inspirations (few films are). But I feel like I can blame the film for dwelling on it. Yet The Town is certainly a worthwhile piece and shows that Ben Affleck learned a thing or two while on his sets. He definitely has talent – talent I am sure he will put to good use.
The plot is pretty simple. Boston resident and bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck) pulls a heist. Afterward, he meets bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and begins a relationship with her. However, his now dual life becomes unstable, especially as FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) tries to use Claire to capture Doug.
Affleck actually shows himself to be a good actor here. He plays Doug pretty much the way anyone would – as a man who is still young, but feels positively ancient. Yet he still wishes something more from life. When he robs a bank, when he talks to Claire, and when he meets with law enforcement, he is nothing but professional – unlike, say, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where all robbers acted like a child at a carnival. During his getaway, Doug is clearly frightened, yet is keeping his composure. His actions during the robbery are utilized for the rest of his life’s experiences. For Affleck to play the character as though he was constantly 0n the job was the correct approach, I think.
The rest of the film borrows quite heavily from Heat, to the point where I am not entirely sure why Michael Mann is not credited at the end. This is not a bad thing (Affleck has only directed two films, and thus is still trying to experiment with what works) and doesn’t dilute the work the way other shameless rip offs do.
Still, the film is not as good as Heat, mostly because I am not sure why there was any focus given to the law enforcement at all. Hamm is a good presence, sure, but the story should have focused on Doug and Claire. Every time Hamm was on screen by himself, it felt more like a distraction than anything else. No, Hamm does not give a bad performance, but his character feels more like an appendage that is best removed.
With Heat, a true dichotomy was achieved. They attempted to do the same here, and it doesn’t work, but not for lack of trying.
But the rest of the film does. There is real camaraderie between Doug and his team, as well as a unique perspective one the relationship between Doug and Claire. The twist on the classic “police gathering at girlfriend’s apartment” is a fantastically executed scene – both Claire and Doug are trying to put on a performance for the other, even though both seem to know that the other is lying. It is moments such as that (I also recommend the ultimate shootout scene) t that the film demonstrates the ideas that are bouncing around in Affleck’s head and the skill he is able to utilize.
One of the best things about films is being surprised. The Town surprised me. It’s not a masterpiece, and I am not going to retroactively add it to my “Best of 2010” list. But it is still a highly enjoyable experience and, if Affleck maintains his focus, I have no doubt that he will he be able to craft a classic someday.