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The Town

The Town

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

BEN Affleck’s career revival, post Gigli, is turning into something to behold and marvel over.

His directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, was a powerhouse piece of cinema that tackled tricky subject matter with the utmost respect and intelligence, while he then traded blows and held his own on-screen with Russell Crowe in State of Play.

He now returns with The Town, his second film as director, which also sees him taking on one of the lead roles. The result is a gripping crime drama that packs a powerful punch.

To describe it as Michael Mann-esque is one way of complimenting the subsequent achievement; to add that Affleck is developing a touch of the Eastwood’s about him is another.

Make no mistake, The Town is a cracking heist movie. True, it doesn’t seek to reinvent the genre or do that much different within it. But it does what it does extremely well and is sometimes breathtaking in its approach.

But then Affleck is all about doing things seriously now… and he surrounds himself with some first-rate talent as if to underline his newfound status. Hence, The Town boasts strong support from Mad Men’s Jon Hamm, The Hurt Locker Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner, a couple of Britain’s finest in the form of Rebecca Hall and Pete Postlethwaite and actress on the rise Blake Lively.

He also sets proceedings in his native Boston… a town he knows and loves like the back of his hand, and which adds an extra layer of authenticity and grit to the story as a whole.

The story is gripping, too, in spite of the ‘been there, seen it before’ aspects to it. Doug (Affleck) is a career criminal and expert bank robber who wants out. Having narrowly got away with their latest haul, Doug has begun to see the writing on the wall and wants to avoid the same fate as his dad, now a prison lifer.

But there are key elements who want him to stay: namely, a trigger-happy childhood friend (played by Renner) who knows the operation would disintegrate without Doug, and a local crime kingpin and florist (Postlethwaite), who threatens to be even more persuasive in getting him to stay.

Doug, though, remains determined and views a fledgling relationship with a kindly bank teller (Hall) as his shot at redemption, even though she has ties to his gang that could also bury them (she was taken hostage by them and set free at the start of the film).

Affleck’s film is a complex pot-boiler that needs an expert hand to guide it. Fortunately, in Affleck it’s found the right man for the task, as the ensuing movie is as emotionally absorbing as it is, often, exhilarating.

Affleck punctuates proceedings with some blistering gun-fights (the best this side of Heat and Miami Vice), but never loses sight of his characters, or the emotional complexity of everyone involved.

As such, he rewards viewers (and genre fans especially) with some superb performances.

Jon Hamm in The Town

Renner cements his reputation as one of the hottest actors on the planet right now, Affleck himself is on career-best form, Hamm is a blast as the fast-talking and ruthlessly dedicated cop on the gang’s trail, and Hall also proves herself more than comfortable among some of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters.

The script, too, is taut and brimming with feisty, testosterone-heavy exchanges, but tempered by moments of tenderness and sensitivity that are capable of appealing to both sexes. The action sequences, meanwhile, are supremely well handled.

Indeed, even the small moments resonate, such as a group of heavily armed robbers driving past an awe-struck schoolboy while dressed in nun’s face-masks.

Boston, too, is developed into a character in its own right, much as Mann has done with LA in the past, or Sidney Lumet with New York… providing Affleck with another tool to exploit for maximum advantage.

But then this is a great movie in every sense of the word… a ‘conventional’ genre entry, for sure, but one that still manages to maintain a sense of its own identity while remaining respectful to the very best that it has to offer.

Affleck, meanwhile, continues to further his fast-growing reputation as one of the most interesting filmmakers of the moment. Whether he has the durability to match the greats he is clearly emulating remains to be seen, but the omens are extremely encouraging.

For now, though, The Town rates one of the best Hollywood thrillers of the year.

Extended version: The extended cut of the movie, which is available as part of the Blu-ray package, is also worth checking out, offering more insight early on into the background to Affleck’s character and the relationships with his crew.

One particularly effective sequence, which follows his break-up with Hall’s character, also finds him distraught and turning back to drugs in an abandoned train carriage.

It’s a powerful moment and one that enhances the feeling of sympathy towards the character, as well as his sense of mounting despair at the environment he has come to feel trapped by.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 2hrs 5mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: January 31, 2011