Ben Affleck's The Town is just about all you can ask for in a bank robbery crime drama. It's smart, well-written, and it's got its emotion in the right place.
In all the years I've talked about film with people, I've noticed that I tend to linger in a group of people that are severely outnumbered - people that really like Ben Affleck. Affleck often gets badmouthed as being a lousy actor for many different reasons. Sometimes people say he picks terrible movies, sometimes people say he's just reading lines, and sometimes Trey Parker and Matt Stone write songs about how Pearl Harbor sucked, and that Ben Affleck was one of the reasons.
Well I like Ben Affleck. Say what you will about his acting (though I think his performance in The Town is terrific), you can't deny his talent as a director. The Town has all the aspects of a classically great crime film, and it's almost all thanks to Affleck's direction, and most likely a love of the Boston area. Great films treat the setting like one of its characters. This is the case here.
Doug MacRay (Affleck) is his father's son - a criminal. An opening text card displays that armed robbery is a trait passed down from father to son in Charlestown, Massachusetts like any other hobby. Him and his three accomplices (played by Jeremy Renner, former rapper Slaine, and Owen Burke) have robbed six trucks and two banks. They've never come close to being caught - the best of the best. MacRay doesn't do this out of a love for the art of heist - he does it simply because that's what there is to do. During their newest heist, a bank manager named Clare (Rebecca Hall) ends up getting taken hostage, not their original plan. They steal her ID, and Caughlin (Renner) decides the gang needs to tail her for a while to make sure she doesn't help the FBI with anything that could trace the incident back to them. They wore masks, after all.
Unfortunately, MacRay volunteers for this position and ends up falling for her. Oh Hollywood, you are a dastardly mistress. Clare begins a secret relationship with him, all the while unknowing that MacRay and the boys were the ones that caused her some serious trauma. Hunting them on the side is FBI Agent Frawley, played by Mad Men's Jon Hamm. The rest of the film centers on MacRay's various relationships with everyone around him - with Clare, with Caughlin (who is turning from his best friend to a violent drug crazed fanatic), to his parents, to his ex-fling and possible baby-momma Krista (played by a very convincing Blake Lively).
The Town gives us one of those rare treats that seems to be dwindling in movies today - a really strong ensemble performance. Renner excels above all here, but after his performance in The Hurt Locker it's easy to say he's going to become the next big deal pretty soon. Affleck, Hall, and Lively also give strong performances, all with convincing accents, and enjoyable levels of depth. Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwait and Chris Cooper back them up with impressive moments of their own.
The real reason this movie succeeds is because of the depth of its characters. Caughlin, MacRay, and Krista are given just about as much development as you could ask for, and the movie is stronger because of it. This raw emotion is what brings this movie from just a regular crime thriller to one of the better films of the year. Underlying this emotion is a rather impressive score by Harry Gregson-Williams and David Buckley, also one of the better scores of the year.
I didn't see Gone, Baby, Gone, but I heard good things. And while Inception will most likely snatch away any of the Oscar nods The Town probably deserves, I close by saying that Ben Affleck may be disputed as a great actor, but his talent as a director is something that you'd have to be a fool to rob him of.
Get it? Rob. Ha.