Ben Affleck is turning into a hell of a director.
On the list of things about movies you never thought you’d hear, that’s got to be high on the list. But after two expertly-made crime movies, “Gone, Baby, Gone” and now “The Town,” there’s no doubt that Affleck is a terrific filmmaker, and one who can adapt a good book into a good flick – something that’s not as easy as it sounds.
I’m told that the star of the film was supposed to be Affleck’s brother Casey, but he wasn’t available, so Affleck cast himself in the lead role and manages to pull it off. As the leader of a crew that specializes in robbing banks and is very good at it, he’s clearly intelligent, but just as clearly wants to get out of the game. He has his tender moments, but he can turn on the brutality when the circumstances call for it. His best friend and crewmate is played by the great Jeremy Renner, who is wound so tight that you think his head could explode at any given moment. Renner isn’t stupid, but brutality is his middle name, and for him robbing banks is not a means to an end – it is the end, because it’s what he knows how to do. The bond between the two is tight, tight enough that Renner spent a 9-year term in prison for killing a kid that had threatened to do the same to Affleck. He makes it clear that he’s never going back to prison, and when you hear that, you know that his fate is sealed.
The story starts on its inexorable run towards a violent conclusion when the crew, in order to escape from a job that threatens to go wrong, takes a hostage – the bank’s manager, played by Rebecca Hall (who does quite well in the role). Affleck volunteers to be the one to check up on her to make sure she knows nothing, they “meet cute” in a Laundromat, and proceed to fall in love. Thus begins a number of triangles involving the two, the third leg of the stool being Renner in one instance, Renner’s sister (Affleck’s former girlfriend) in the other, and Jon Hamm (as an FBI agent determined the bring down the crew) as the third.
There are several standout scenes in the movie that prove Affleck knows what he’s doing as an action director – one involving a car chase down the narrow streets of Boston; another coming in the climactic scene (set at Fenway Park) when there appears to be no way out, and the crew struggles to find one. But the movie is more than action; there are great quiet moments involving Affleck and Hall, involving Affleck and Chris Cooper (as his imprisoned father), and some creepy if not downright scary moments between Affleck and Pete Postlethwaite, playing the grizzled old man who gets a piece of everything the crew has a hand in – and a lot more than that.
Affleck has now done very well by Dennis Lehane and Chuck Hogan – I’d love to see him give Robert Crais or Michael Connelly a try.