Tuesday, 28 September 2010


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With The Town, his second outing behind the camera, Ben Affleck reaffirms the promise he showed in his directorial debut, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. Much like Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood before him, Affleck seems to have found his calling as a filmmaker rather than an actor. Not that his performance here, as Doug MacRay, leader of a Boston team of bank robbers, is bad; it’s one of his better ones in recent years.

Like Affleck’s debut, The Town is set on the working class streets of Boston, the suburb of Charlestown to be precise and apparent bank robbery capital of the US. The film opens with the crew’s latest heist, on a downtown bank, where they escape with the money and, against their usual MO, a hostage.

That’s bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), a non-native of Boston who volunteers at the local youth centre and whom Doug takes a shine to when, after letting her go, he begins following her to see if she is close to indentifying them to the FBI.

Led by Special Agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm, sporting a three-day growth and inconsistent hair so as to distance him, however slightly, from his perfectly manicured Mad Men persona), the Feds have nothing on Doug’s crew even though they suspect them. Claire’s withholding of one vital clue (a distinctive tattoo on one of their necks) doesn’t help.

That tattoo belongs to Jim (The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner), the crew’s muscle and hothead, and Doug’s de facto brother. Jim’s already done a stint in prison for murder and has no plans of returning to jail. Nor is he keen on the idea of Doug getting out of the robbery game and leaving Boston, and him, for Claire. There’s also another local king pin, The Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), who wants his cut of the action.

Having grown up in Boston (with fellow actor, Oscar winner and best bud, Matt Damon), Affleck knows the city well, and deliberately cast, I assume, local non-actors to fill the smaller, background roles. He also has an ear for the distinct, thick accent which aids in authenticity but doesn’t help with audibility; there were times I could have done with subtitles, usually whenever Blake Lively was on-screen.

She plays Krista, sister of Jim and sometime girlfriend of Doug, and you can imagine her as a younger version of the vile woman played by Oscar nominee Amy Ryan in Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone. But despite the chatter in the blogosphere, any talk of Lively being similarly acknowledged is absurd.

There’s also talk of The Town being nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, and in a 10-film year, that’s not unreasonable (positive reviews and good box office certainly don’t hurt its chances). But in a 5-film year, it just wouldn’t happen.

Not that The Town isn’t a fine film. It’s a compelling crime drama that’s solid all round, with as much attention paid to character as to the action sequences. Although, as a writer-director, I think Affleck may need to work harder on his female characters: Hall, a fine British actress, isn’t given a lot to do as the love interest; a similar fate befalling Michelle Monaghan in Gone Baby Gone.

But it’s early days for Ben Affleck the director, and there’s plenty of time to learn in a career that is very much on an upward trajectory.

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