Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm
The Ben Affleck career renaissance continues and gathers steam with The Town, his directorial follow-up to Gone, Baby, Gone. Like its predecessor, it is a gritty, Boston-set thriller, though I don't know that it has quite the same emotional impact. Still, it's a competently made and executed genre picture and worth a look.
The film is set in the neighborhood of Charlestown, which we are told is home to a high concentration of bank robbers, and opens with a bank robbery. Doug (Affleck), Jem (Jeremy Renner), Desmond (Owen Burke), and Gloansy (Slaine) - the team behind the heist - proceed with the ruthless efficiency of professionals, though experience has done little to temper Jem's impulsiveness. Jem decides that they'll take the bank's manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), hostage, and though they let her go physically unharmed, they've left a considerable pscyhological imprint. When they learn afterwards that she lives in Charlestown, they agree that they need to make sure she doesn't know anything that could link them to the crime. Not wanting hot-headed Jem to make a bad situation worse, Doug opts to take care of it himself.
Doug "meets" Claire in a laundromat and begins a relationship with her which inspires him to want more out of life. Certainly he doesn't want to end up like his father (Chris Cooper), who will spend the rest of his life in prison. He tells Jem that their next job will be his last but his declaration meets with fierce resistance. For one thing, Jem doesn't want to break up the crew. For another, he doesn't want to let Doug walk out on Krista (Blake Lively), his on-again, off-again girlfriend who is also Jem's sister. Furthermore, their boss, Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), isn't willing to let him walk away and warns Doug that bad things will happen to people he loves unless he falls back in line. Doug reluctantly agrees to play ball, though he knows that the heat - in the form of FBI agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) - is on and the walls are closing in.
The acting in the film is very strong, as it should be with such a great cast. Doug is the strong silent type and Affleck plays him well, especially against Renner, whose Jem is a bundle of energy looking for a means to violently expend itself; Doug is the calm, Jem is the storm. Though he makes a lot of noise about the trouble Claire could bring them, Jem is the real wild card, the character whose actions threaten to bring hell down on everyone, and Renner pretty much steals the show. Hall, Hamm and Lively all turn in solid performances, though their characters never get to become much more than "types" and Postlethwaite and Cooper make the most of little screentime (Cooper is only in one scene but it's an effective and memorable one).
The direction here is confident and assured, particularly in the action scenes. There's a terrific chase sequence through narrow streets about half-way through the film that makes for a great set-piece, as does the prolonged shoot-out that marks the story's climax. The quieter moments of the film are handled equally well, firmly establishing a sense of place and the rules of the setting. Early on Doug and Claire have a discussion about kids calling her a "tunie," a conversation which nicely addresses the changes that gentrification is bringing to the established order of the neighborhood without beating the audience over the head with the point. The only real criticism that I have of the screenplay is that the ending seems a little too tidy and, perhaps, not fully earned. It isn't enough of a character-driven drama for the ending to comfortably fit with the rest of the film. Still, it's a solid effort and, alongside Gone, Baby, Gone, announces Affleck as a director worth watching.