Ben Affleck’s career has been an interesting one. When he first burst onto the scene with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, based on a screenplay the two of them had written, there was a lot of excitement about both him and his co-star.
Since then, his choices seem to have been marked by his collaborations: firstly, king of the cult-hit, Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl); then king of the explosions, Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). And finally queen of the Bronx, Jennifer Lopez (Gigli).
The latter movie seems to have marked an end to that middle part of his career, and he’s decided take a bit more control over his projects: writing and directing Gone Baby Gone, the excellent 2007 thriller starring his brother Casey; and now The Town, which he has written, directed and stars in.
Like Gone Baby Gone and Good Will Hunting, it’s set in Boston: in particular Charlesland. The opening titles proclaiming there’s over 300 bank robberies In Boston every year, most of the robbers living in this infamous neighbourhood.
Unsurprisingly, Ben Affleck plays a bank robber, Doug MacRay. He’s the leader of a gang who have made a career of doing hits on banks and security vans.
At the start of the film, they kidnap the manager of the bank, Rebecca Hall, and eventually release her. Given that she’s spent a lot of time with the robbers, they’re concerned she may have the information to bring them down. So Doug starts following her, accidentally ends up speaking to her, and then not so accidentally, starts dating her.
In the background is an FBI Agent played by John Hamm (Don Draper,Mad Men). He’s got his eye on Doug and the gang, and is waiting for them to make their first mistake. His role gives the film a kind of Heat/Fugitive vibe, with both the audience rooting for both the cop and the robber.
In terms of execution, The Town gets most things right: the action scenes are brilliantly done: both in terms of thrills and tension. The performances across the board are also fantastic: Affleck walking with the type of swagger and confidence we haven’t really seen since Good Will Hunting. It’s perhaps no coincidence that these are the only two roles so far in his career he wrote for himself.
However, there are some fairly major problems with the script. For starters, the story is hardly that original: a working class character trying to escape his current existence and do something more with his life.
To Affleck’s credit, he does go to great lengths to create the realistic, gritty world his characters inhabit. However, in choosing to focus merely on Affleck’s Doug, we’re given absolutely no sense of what any of the other characters’ lives are like outside of their relationship with the central character.
As a result, they become merely pawns around which Affleck must manoeuvre. Their only purpose in the film seems to be to either help or hinder the choices he’s trying to make. As a result we are given no reason to care about other characters’ existence, which in turn leads to an emotional disconnect to the film’s story.
Overall, The Town feels like a wasted opportunity. One could describe it as a ‘smart, tense, action movie’. However, I can’t help but think Affleck wanted it to be much more that that: an insightful, exciting piece about the residents of Charlestown. In choosing to focus exclusively on one resident at the expense of all the others, I feel he’s made a movie which is admirable, but ultimately pretty flawed.