Words: Saam Das
'The Town' (UK Release: 24 September 2010)
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm
'The Town' sees Ben Affleck return to the director's seat, following his critically acclaimed debut directorial effort 'Gone Baby Gone' in 2007. 'The Town' is very much an old school cops-and-robbers film, pitting Ben Affleck’s band of bank robbers against the Jon Hamm-led police force in Charlestown, Boston.
The film opens with a heavy action beat, as Affleck’s four man crew hits a bank. They are, for the most part, consummate professionals but when a silent alarm is tripped, they panic and kidnap the bank manager (Rebecca Hall). Their successful escape means a blindfolded Hall is let free. However, they soon discover that she lives in the same area as her, and despite their efforts to conceal their identities, there are understandable concerns that she may recognise some of the crew on the street.
Affleck takes it upon himself to investigate whether their concerns are justified, and to ensure Jeremy Renner’s character does not needlessly “take care” of Hall. Quite remarkably, Affleck’s character begins a relationship with Hall, with her oblivious to his role in the bank robbery.
Affleck’s character falls into that much loved cliché - a thief with a “heart of gold”, who has to finish one last job before he can quit the business and start a new life. He also contrasts Renner’s trigger-happy character, who brilliantly amps up the reckless streak we saw in 'The Hurt Locker'. Affleck, on the other hand, isn’t a killer. Well, until later in the film when he proceeds to kill several people. "Heart of gold", eh?
At times, a Boston mobster intensity found in Martin Scorcese’s astonishing film 'The Departed' seeps through. Unfortunately, the mobster in this film, Pete Postlethwaite largely seems to exist as a superfluous character designed to simply move the plot forward or add in unnecessary character details. Affleck’s father, played by Chris Cooper, also suffers a similar fate but is granted even less screen time.
Perhaps most grating is that 'The Town' is very much in the thrall of another heist thriller, Michael Mann’s 'Heat'. Indeed, a telephone interaction between Hall and Affleck’s character is lifted wholesale out of 'Heat'. Yet there has to be a concession that a truly unique film in this cliché-laden genre is nigh on impossible, and the touches of originality that are added here are superb. In particular, the way that the crew prep for their job is a wonderful detail - everything from scrubbing their body down in an attempt not to leave a trace of DNA at the crime scene to collecting hair from a barbershop to plant as conflicting evidence.
There certainly is much to love about 'The Town'. The heist jobs and subsequent car chase escapes are fantastic, with Affleck’s kinetic direction sharing both a sense of clarity and excitement that all action directors seek. The casting is sublime, with the likes of Hall and Renner adding considerable gravitas to their characters. Boston rapper Slaine also unexpectedly puts in a fine performance as one of the bank robbing crew. Consequently, there is an air of authenticity to the local accents on offer, and I love me a good Baw-ston accent. Even Pete Postlethwaite's somewhat ridiculous Irish accent has its own charms.
'The Town' might add little to the conventional heist movie but what it does add is inspired. Ben Affleck does an impeccable job both in front of and behind the camera, continuing his career resurrection by producing one of the year's most thrilling action films.
'The Town' is in cinemas across the UK now.