Since the arrival of Ben Affleck's impressive directorial début, Gone Baby Gone, his Hollywood creditability has gone up tenfold. Long gone the days where his appearances in mediocre romantic comedies, and being the butt of J-Lo jokes stifled a once promising career. Lest we forget, he did nab an Oscar for the screenplay to Good Will Hunting and gave brilliant performances in two of Kevin Smith's best films, Dogma and Chasing Amy.
Building on the success of Gone Baby Gone comes his directorial follow-up, The Town, in which he also stars in the leading role. Similar in setting to his previous film and based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, the story opens in the troubled Boston district of Charlestown, where Affleck and his modest band of bank robbers pull off their latest heist. Making sure the only real witness to the crime (Rebecca Hall) stays quiet, Affleck's Doug inadvertently pursues a romantic relationship with the woman. Much to the dismay of his main partner in crime, portrayed by Jeremy Renner.
Though nobody is ever quite sure what "IT" is, as cliched as it sounds, The Town, unfortunately ain't quite it. As a solid crime thriller, the film performs its duties admirably. However it often appears two-dimensional in comparison to other films listed in this seemingly endless sub-genre of Boston based crime movies, such as Martin Scorsese's The Departed. Even compared to Affleck's own, Gone Baby Gone which delves into some genuinely ethical grey areas or Clint Eastwood's Mystic River it ultimately doesn't pull off being more than it indeed appears to be.
Though the performances from the cast were entertaining, their characters filed into all the usual cops and robbers stereotypes. You had Affleck's broody, conflicted gang leader, praying for one last job which will be enough to leave his horrid life behind - with his innocent, forgiving girlfriend in his arms.
While Renner's role as his right hand man, is an erratic psychopath who could quite likely screw over his lifelong friend, if circumstances come down to it. No real direction or purpose, just the life he knows, which is riddled with violence and petty thuggery. Oh we also have the brilliant Pete Postlethwaite playing the token Boston Irish mafia boss - with an Irish accent stronger than mine (and I'm from East Belfast..).
The blog's current favourite leading man Jon Hamm (from TV's Mad Men, as if you didn't know!) performed, the role of the FBI agent bringing the robbers down, exceptionally well. However, there was very little time to see his character develop on screen to give audiences the chance to truly root for him. Rebecca Hall's continued grace lifted the picture, however it's Blake Lively who steals the show as the trashy, drug addicted sister of Renner and mother to, possibly, Affleck's child.
In reality, Affleck has taken a lot from what he learnt while making Gone Baby Gone, the only real difference however was injecting a lot of action into the proceedings. You could quite rightly argue it was very reminiscent of Michael Mann's Heat, or the opening sequence to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight - albeit on a much more intimate scale. And no offence to Mr Affleck's vision, but a swooping shot of the Boston skyline every five minutes isn't going to change my mind on that one.
The Town at best is a very competent and intimate crime thriller, which is perfectly paced, action packed and contains some highly entertaining performances. At worst it is a bleak, grossly unoriginal entry into an already crowded sub-genre, painfully riddled with countless cops and robbers clichés. Whatever happened to the friendly Boston, where everybody knows your name?
See This If You Liked...
The Departed, Gone Baby Gone, Heat, Mystic River
The Town is in cinemas nationwide from today.