A lot has happened to Ben Affleck since winning that Oscar for GOOD WILL HUNTING. Hollywood made an attempt at making him a old school action star, a romantic leading man, even tabloid fodder with the whole Lopez thing.
In this latest chapter, Affleck has emerged as a respected filmmaker. After the success behind the camera with GONE, BABY, GONE (his brother taking up the Affleck acting mantle in that piece), the TOWN finds Ben wearing both acting and directing hats.
THE TOWN is a throwback film, a genuine heist movie with the trappings of modern filmmaking technology (some wonderfully shot action sequences and fabulous sound design), wrapped in a old fashioned cops-and-robbers tale. Affleck plays Doug McRay, a hockey player that could have made it in the big leagues, only to find his dreams squandered. He’s part of a crack crew in what we’re told is the Bank Robbery capital of America (seems plausible enough), full of hard Irishmen with assault rifles and quick fuse personalities. Complicated love ensues, FBI chases occur, with it all culminating (naturally) at the church of the Red Sox, Fenway.
What elevates this from mere genre dreck are great performances all around. The inimitable Pete Postlethwaite plays a bad-ass boss, while Jeremy Renner seems like just the type of mate you wouldn’t want to cross. Jon Hamm manages to lose his MAD MEN affectations and give a interesting take on the FBI trope, while Chris Cooper does his usual smouldering stuff and Rebecca Hall gives the female lead a weight it deserves.
THE TOWN is slick, well paced, yet at its heart it’s a character drama, with the action set pieces genuinely assisting in character development. It’s comforting to see that Affleck’s new direction is into literate filmmaking, even when exploring more accessible genres as employed in this film. An enjoyable start to the main programme of this year’s festival.