Review: The Town (TIFF)
PLOT: The leader (Ben Affleck) of a crew of bank robbers falls in love with the key witness (Rebecca Hall) from his last job. This puts him at odds with his hot-headed partner (Jeremy Renner), and also in the cross-hairs of an FBI agent (Jon Hamm), bent on taking down the crew.
REVIEW: Ben Affleck's second film as a director, THE TOWN, is just as good as the amazing trailer that played before all the prints of INCEPTION this summer would have you believe. It proves not only that GONE BABY, GONE was no fluke, but that Affleck's one of the best actor/directors to come along since Clint Eastwood or Mel Gibson.
Just as importantly, it's also a major comeback for Affleck as an actor. The Ben Affleck featured in THE TOWN is not at all like the guy that starred in a slew of crappy movies ten years ago. Watching Affleck in THE TOWN is similar to watching George Clooney in OUT OF SIGHT, in that it was the first film that established him as “George Clooney”, and did away with some of the annoying habits he showed off on ER, and films like THE PEACEMAKER. For Clooney to step it up, he needed to work with Steven Soderbergh. Affleck didn't have to look as far, as it turns out the director best capable of pulling a great performance out of him was in fact himself.
I really believe THE TOWN is going to be his ticket back to the A-list, and it's amazing how well he's grown into more macho fare over the last few years. The years have been kind to Affleck, with a little distinguished gray in his newly close-cropped hair that suits him well (and certainly didn't hurt Clooney). He has a gravitas here in THE TOWN that I never would have expected from him a few years ago, and you'll be amazed at how well he holds him own against a heavy-weight like Jeremy Renner, who's like the James Cagney to Affleck's Humphrey Bogart in this film.
Of course, the whole “thief with a heart of gold” plot is nothing terribly new, but Affleck's character is nonetheless really intriguing, with him obviously longing for a better life outside his Charleston slum, an environment that pushed him into a downward spiral of drugs and crime. I suppose that's why him falling for the classy Rebecca Hall/bank manager character makes sense, as she's so far removed from his world despite only living a few blocks away from his rough neighbourhood.
Their romance takes up most of the first hour of the film, before giving way to some intense action in the second half. The action scenes are incredible, and a armoured truck robbery/car chase that has the gang dressed up as nuns is a show-stopper. Affleck's smart in that he doesn't try to ape anyone's style (no HEAT rip-offs like in TAKERS), and shoots the action in a way that's impressive, but also focuses on realism (i.e- no slow-mo walking away from explosions or anything cheesy like that).
Like GONE BABY, GONE, Affleck's gone the extra mile to achieve a realistic feel by shooting on location in Charleston, and filling the cast with lots of actual residents of the area. Even still, the actors like Renner, or even Blake Lively, who's about as far removed from that world as you could imagine, make you believe they've lived in this rough world their whole lives. For Renner, THE TOWN is a great follow-up to THE HURT LOCKER, with him still playing an intense bad-ass, as in that film, but containing enough motivation to not make his character a rip-off of that role. There's a lot of depth here, and his close bond with Affleck in the film is actually quite touching, with both being willing to go to jail, or die for the other.
As for Blake Lively, wow. I can't believe how good she is here. While she's not quite Amy Ryan in GONE BABY, GONE, she nevertheless really impressed me with the depth of her performance, in a role that could have come off as just another gun-moll had it not been so sympathetically crafted. I truly had no idea she's so talented, and I can see why this role landed her one of the main roles in THE GREEN LANTERN.
The rest of the cast is also terrific, with Rebecca Hall making for a sympathetic love interest (although she takes a back seat to Affleck, and Renner in the second half- as their relationship is arguably the most important one in the film). "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm also has a great role as the dogged FBI agent chasing Affleck, and some effort is made to give him depth to distinguish him from the standard cop character found in most of these films. Pete Postlethwaite also has a nifty part as the elderly crime boss of Charlestown, and his climatic scene with Affleck had the journalist audience I saw this with cheering.
Needless to say, I really liked THE TOWN, and it's likely going to rank high on my TOP 10 list toward the end of the year. We'll see if Affleck gets an Oscar nod or not, but for my money he deserves it. It's a great action/thriller/romance that will likely please audiences big time once it comes out, and I hope it's just the beginning of the new Ben Affleck we're seeing here. I can't wait to see what he does next.
|Extra Tidbit:||I'd say THE BOURNE IDENTITY did for Matt Damon what OUT OF SIGHT did for Clooney and THE TOWN will do for Affleck.|