Good Will Robbing: Ben Affleck Brings Us To “The Town”
The Bank Robbery film has been done before, many times. “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Point Break”, “The Inside Man”, and the epitomal “Heat”. It has become a sort of sub-genre of Crime films and explores some very interesting characters. Exploring the psyche of men who meticulously plan out a 3 minute highly intense crime and have to trust other members of their team to get them through the heist. There is a sens of fraternity and trust amongst the team (except for the formulaic ‘traitor’ in the gang who never talks much and no one really trusts). In Ben Affleck’s “The Town” we get an exploration of childhood friends robbing banks together in Charlestown, and the idea of “Honor Amongst Thieves”.
“The Town” begins with a heist where one of the bank managers named Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) sees a tattoo on a member of the gang, making them vulnerable to her witness. Ringleader Doug MacRay (Affleck) begins to follow her, however his romantic interest begins to pull the group apart. And a cavalier FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on their tail. The gang begins to question each other’s motives and tension mounts towards a harrowing climax.
With “The Town” Affleck has officially announced his arrival as a director. He makes so many great choices artistically in this film that I am amazed this is the same guy that once chose to star in “Gigli”. His first important choices were in his casting of this film. He has surrounded himself with a large heaping of burgeoning talent that carries the film. Affleck himself delivers his most soulful and layered performance since “Hollywoodland” and does us all the favor of not making MacRay the “Bank Robber with the Heart of Gold”. He also cast the “so hot right now” Jon Hamm as his FBI foil. I thought this choice would backfire, as Hamm seemed a one-dimensional actor to me. However he proves himself more than worthy of being a movie star with a performance that is very complex. His FBI officer is in many ways the antagonist (if this film even has one) and has one great scene at a bar where he goes from smooth and charming to menacing and terrifying in a matter of seconds. However the most impressive performance of the film belongs to Blake Lively, yes she of Gossip Girl fame. I was convinced that she was going to be the bane of this films existence; I thought she was simply another stock “Blonde Girl” in Hollywood. However she centers the film with her performance and becomes a symbol of Charlestown in MacRay’s life. The rawness of her character, a single mother who is addicted to oxycotin and cocaine, is a central part of who MacRay is. In the beginning of the film he evens shares a brief, un-intimate tryst with her; this scene parallels powerfully with the first true lovemaking scene with MacRay and Claire.
The film is at its best in the bank robbery scenes themselves, with Affleck flexing his directing muscle by using very creative techniques with sound to ratchet up the intensity. Affleck displays the understanding that silence can tell much more than a booming soundtrack or loud effects, especially in these hurried moments. The lightning quick pacing gives the vibe of an actual robbery, where one mistake can cause complete failure of a carefully rehearsed heist. These moments are rife with chest tightening, razor-wire force as the audience has no idea how any of the robberies are going to go down. We are left to speculate and hope for the characters we are attached to. In this way it is very comparable to “Hurt Locker”, and even shares a co-star in Jeremy Renner. Affleck truly shines in a car chase scene in the crowded alleyways of Charlestown. This includes some great moments that are sure to be the most memorable icons from the film.
Affleck’s film lags in the most important relationship of the film, the romance between MacRay and Claire. It is meant to center the film but instead is drowned in clichés and doesn’t achieve the affect of sentimentality for their tragic bond. This leads into the weakest moment of the film, the ending. Affleck’s yearning to give the audience a hopeful ending instead pulls a punch. Instead of ending with the ambiguity of a true classic “The Town” goes about four shots too long, however it doesn’t compromise all of the positive things done before.
“The Town” is an uncompromising look at life in the slums, and how people try and escape their horrible situations. Affleck is impressive as an actor, yet even more so as a director. He has shown that he can make a well-paced and quality film. It would be interesting to see him move away from the crime genre with his next film. However “The Town” is well worth visiting, and surely merits another viewing.
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