By Mike A.Smith
There’s a great gag on “Family Guy” concerning the writing of “Good Will Hunting.” Matt Damon finishes the script while Ben Affleck, lounging on the couch, asks that his name be put on it as well. Damon says he will if Affleck contributes one thing to the story. Affleck farts. For many years that scenario was believable. While Damon has built a pretty solid career Affleck stumbled through a mine field of tabloid stories and poor role choices. Then came 2005. Affleck settled down and got married. He also decided to bypass the bad roles that paid well and dedicate himself to the business he loved. He gave a fine performance in “Hollywoodland,” playing George Reeves, television’s Superman. He then went behind the camera and directed an excellent film called “Gone Baby Gone.” Now Affleck has combined both of his talents in “The Town.”
As the film opens we’re informed that the Charlestown section of Boston is home of the most bank robbers, and host to the most bank and armored car robberies, in America. Kansas City, where I live, averages 80 bank robberies a year. Last year there were over 300 in Boston. When you consider the banks are closed on holidays and Sundays that averages about one robbery per day. In “The Town” we join a gang of robbers as they pull another heist. The leader of the group pulls Claire, the bank manager (Rebecca Hall), to the vault and has her open it. The rest of the gang, wise to the ways of banking, comb through the stacks of bills, leaving the ones with electronic trackers and exploding dye packs behind. Soon they are out the door with Claire as a hostage. They release her but keep her drivers license, threatening her if she gives the FBI any information. A few days later she meets Doug McCray, a local construction worker with a side job. I’ll give you three guesses as to what Doug does to help pay the bills. First two don’t count.
A tense thriller full of great performances, “The Town” is a heist film that rivals “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Heat.” And no, I’m not saying that as a director Ben Affleck is the equal to Sidney Lumet and Michael Mann. But he appears to be on his way. Working from a script he co-wrote (the film is based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan), Affleck once again films in familiar territory, the city he grew up in. And that familiarity serves him well. The Boston we see is more intimate and familiar. As in “Gone Baby Gone” Affleck has peppered the film with non-actors, whose speech patterns and glamour-less faces lend the film an authenticity it may have otherwise not achieved. “Gone Baby Gone” proved he had an eye for drama. He shows that skill here also, as well as staging a car chase the equal of the ones in “Bullit” and “The French Connection.” Affleck shines equally on the other side of the camera, giving a strong, sympathetic performance. Equally strong is Renner, the hot head of the group. His performance here proves that his Academy Award nomination for last years’ “The Hurt Locker” was no fluke. As the FBI agent on McCray’s heels, Hamm also delivers. After he showed up in the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” I feared Hamm would go the way of Tom Selleck – a fine actor who could never seem to find the right script. But if his work here is any indication, my fears will be baseless. Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper fill supporting roles admirably.
I should mention here that the film also wants to remind us that, in spite of all of the robberies, the people who live in the Charlestown area of Boston are good, hard working people. Reminds me of when “The Godfather” first aired on television and Francis Ford Coppola kept showing up during the commercials to remind everyone that not every Italian-America was in the mob. I know I wasn’t.
Extras : Commentary be Affleck and an interesting 6-part featurette on the making of the film (and Boston, the city).