With his new movie The Town opening wide this weekend, Ben Affleck is officially a director I need to keep an eye on. After his stunning debut in 2007 with Gone Baby Gone, it is a relief to see that it wasn't a fluke and that Affleck really has the talent and skill of a major director. It may seem a bit premature to say this but I'm starting to believe that Affleck is doing for Boston what Woody Allen did for New York City in the 1970s. Ben Affleck knows how to make Boston become a major character in his films in a way that does not seem forced and instead comes from his deep love for the city he grew up around. The movie isn't just a simple love letter to Boston though. It is also a tense and thrilling heist movie with a great cast of characters and a script that luckily doesn't pander to audiences who can't bother to pay attention to what is happening in front of them.
The basic plot of The Town is setup in the opening bank heist by Affleck's character Doug, his close friend James (played by the excellent Jeremy Renner), and their two other crew members (played by newcomers Owen Burke and Slaine). They end up taking a bank worker hostage whom they eventually drop off after they realize they were able to get away clean. But they soon find out that the woman they took (played by Rebecca Hall) happens to live in the same neighborhood as them, Charlestown. Affleck decides he will follow up on her to make sure she didn't see or hear anything she wasn't supposed to. Without planning to, he ends up falling for her and tries to keep his life as a bank robber hidden while at the same time a pair of feds (played by Jon Hamm and Titus Weller) start zeroing in on his crew.
As you can see, the plot of The Town boils down to a pretty standard heist flick. It may not be breaking any new ground but it is an example of the right way to do a heist movie. The casting of the movie is spot on for every major role. All the people mentioned do a great job but special attention should be given to both Renner and Hamm. Both are very intense characters on opposite sides of the law and it was great to see Hamm get to play a character other than Don Draper (or the handsome and stupid Dr. Drew Baird). I was also impressed with Blake Lively, who plays the sister of Renner's character and also a former love interest of Affleck. It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but she does a great job at playing a Boston druggie who dresses like a hooker.
A major problem with most heist movies is that they all follow a basic formula. The Town is no exception but the talent in front of and behind the camera is far too great to ever let it dip into boring or cliche territory. It may have never left me wondering where the movie would go next, but I enjoyed the ride so much that it wasn't a problem. The Town also features some amazing car chase scenes that rightfully so have been getting lots of attention leading up to the release. Affleck proves that not only can he handle character heavy drama, but when the movie calls for it, he is able to direct some superb action sequences. A lot of action movies lately favor the hyper editing style that makes it so you easily get lost and don't have a sense of where certain characters are in relation to everyone else. Fortunately, Affleck does not subscribe to this editing style and so the movie never becomes a confusing mess and you always know exactly what is happening on the screen.
My one complaint with the movie would be the ending, which I felt was far too much of an easy choice but luckily it does not diminish what comes before it. I question the plausibility of two outcomes that occur but due to my goal of staying spoiler free, I will simply leave it at that. The Town may be far from a 5 star classic, but it is a seriously good movie that should be seen. I hope this movie finds an audience this fall and it allows Affleck to continue making these great films. It will be interesting to see what he decides to do next. Whatever it is, I plan to be in the theater on opening night.