'The Town' (dir: Ben Affleck, 2010), Cert: 15
The words ‘gritty’, ‘bleak’ and ‘raw’ are not usually associated with Ben Affleck; he’s usually on the receiving end of a battering from most critics about his pictures. His latest film however, which he also directs and co-writes, has changed many minds. ‘The Town’ is glowing with praise; stars are splattered all over its poster and television adverts, and it seems many are fond of Affleck behind the camera rather than in front. His 2007 debut picture ‘Gone Baby Gone’ was a gripping and haunting Crime Drama that put him on the map, but was this just a one-off, or is Ben Affleck really becoming a great filmmaker?
Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts: The bank robbery capital of the United States. Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his three best friends, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Albert Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke) are bank robbers who wear demonic masks and strategically plan each and every move of their crime. They are criminal masterminds who thrive in the dank and dingy underworld that is Charlestown. During a robbery, the group kidnap Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager who could cause them huge problems. She is released unharmed after the robbery. Claire then has a surprise meeting with Doug and a relationship between them ensues. Claire is unaware that MacRay was involved in her kidnap; however, she has enough information to send the Police and FBI running after the group. Now Doug must decide what life he really wants to pursue; should he stay loyal to his friends and his hometown, continuing with his current lifestyle, or does he turn a new leaf and devote his life to the woman he loves?
Affleck, who’s known as one of Hollywood’s pretty boys fails to let his star status invade his latest picture; ‘The Town’ is about as ‘Hollywood’ as a David Lynch movie. Sure, it’s got action, stars and a big budget, but Affleck’s latest plays on the screen like a cesspool littered with crooked cops, brash-talking Irish-Americans and blood money. It feels like ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’, just without clean-shaved stars. The film lacks any glamour or sparkle at all; it’s a depressing and dysfunctional portrait of a town begging to be saved from itself. ‘The Town’ is cold, damp and cripplingly honest; this is 2010s Film-Noir.
It’s showered with tense and nerving moments, leaving your eyes either glued to the screen, or covered by your hands. The violence makes you wince, the sex makes you feel dirty and Charlestown makes you feel unsafe; and all of these great emotions are down to Affleck and his cameras.
The set pieces and cinematography in the picture are exceptional. One sequence in particular involving a car chase through the narrow back streets of the town is experienced like an arcade simulator. The audience in my cinema were turning and twisting in their seats as if they are trying to avoid the walls and oncoming cars in the scene. The film is also incredibly intelligent and it treats its audience with respect. It doesn’t dwell on a scene or event, the momentum is always pushing the narrative forward, it doesn’t leave anyone at second base of Fenway Park, it’s heading for a Home-Run.
Sometimes your ear may stray slightly during some dialogue as its fast and the gravelly tones of the Boston voice box can be a little confusing, but this is all down to Affleck’s accuracy when presenting the city and its residents. Having been to Boston and some of the locations of this film myself, I know first-hand that this is a pretty fair depiction of the area, but don’t worry, if you visit Boston you’re not going to get robbed by a group of men dressed as nuns.
The performances in the film are stellar; Affleck gives one of the best ever performances and is wiping the filthy grins off of the critics who desperately wanted this movie to fail. Hall is wonderful and it’s great to see a Brit battling for the limelight with some of Hollywood’s heavyweights. Jon Hamm is also great as the hard-talking and acting FBI agent, Adam Frawley, but Renner is easily the star of the show. He’s a maverick of cinema; having failed to get his career off the ground numerous times, he comes and kicks dirt in our faces with the masterpiece that is ‘The Hurt Locker’ and he’s back for round two in this movie. His character James is a menacing and highly believable screen presence that stares through you leaving you feeling empty; he’s similar to a young Cagney, only scruffier and foul-mouthed. His manic and unconventional ways of dealing situations has earned him a spot in the craziest characters of 2010 category.
‘The Town’ has proven to film critics and fans alike that Ben Affleck is not a one-trick pony, he’s looking like one of the best up and coming American directors for a long time. His camera skills, attention to detail and documented accuracy are something that many filmmakers fail to achieve. Sure he’s starred in a few duff films, but if he keeps making and starring in films like ‘The Town’, the majority of people will forgive him and see that he’s actually bursting with talent.
‘The Town’ is a marvellous picture that mixes genre cinema with documentary, resulting in a sublime outcome. It’s one of my favourite films of the year and it will be a crime if people don’t go and see it.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 – An utter knockout. This is proper American filmmaking, a modern Noir, a re-vamped ‘Heat’, call it whatever you want, but I’m happy to just call it fantastic.
By Chris Haydon