Continuing the career resurgence that began back in 2007 with GONE BABY GONE, Ben Affleck has achieved a successful sophomore effort in THE TOWN. As with his first film, his second is a tense, gritty crime thriller set in and around Boston. It is here that we find a gang of successful and daring bank robbers who, after a dramatic heist and hostage taking, catch the intense attention of the FBI. THE TOWN benefits from some ambitious and well-executed action as well as great location shooting around the city, but its greatest asset is the performances of its leads.
This time around, Affleck has opted to try his luck in front of the cameras as well as behind them. As a director, the star was riding a wave of momentum into production on THE TOWN, but as an actor, Affleck generally garnered less support. The primary concern this time around was whether his directorial prowess would be hampered by his minimal screen presence. It wasn't. Affleck still lacks acting talents that are going to win him Academy Awards, but his performance in THE TOWN might be his best to-date. Appearing chiseled but tired, the veteran actor may have found a respectful place for himself as a more grizzled personality than merely a pretty one.
Starring alongside Affleck is last year's star of THE HURT LOCKER and Oscar Nominee Jeremy Renner. His performance as Doug's (Affleck) best friend James, a violent and paranoid member of the gang, is something worth seeing. Renner has a fire in him that makes this type of character believable and scary instead of over-the-top. Also turning in a solid performance is Blake Lively of "Gossip Girl" fame. She plays James' sister, Krista; a damaged goods townie and occasional lover to Doug. Her portrayal is about as dirty and broke-down as you can get for the limited amount of screentime her character receives.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") and Pete Postlethwaite ("Clash of the Titans"). Hamm puts in a tough performance as the determined, no-nonsense FBI agent tasked with bringing the gang to justice. With all of his recent successes in comedy, there's some desire to take Hamm lightly, but in THE TOWN he fights hard to come off as a real SOB and does so admirably. I enjoyed Postlethwaite's performance as a seasoned (and serious) neighborhood gangster so much because I've never seen him in such a role. The veteran actor is such a pro, I hardly recognize him, not because his physical appearance is altered, but because his voice and body language are truly transformative.
However, this is where some of the film's minor flaws come into play. The two above-characters are relegated to much more minor roles than they should have been. Both are, at times, antagonists to Affleck's Doug, but neither one truly gets to embrace the role. I get the fact that Doug's real enemy is the difficulty of his life situation, but in a heist film, you're only as interesting as the man hunting you. Hamm's hunting is short-changed, but the scenes in which he's taking lead are pretty great. It's revealed late in the film that Doug's family has a rather storied relationship with Fergie (Postlethwaite), but it's never truly fleshed-out in a satisfactory manner. Doug's father, respectably played by Chris Cooper, also adds an interesting element to the plot that never receives its due screentime.
Affleck is instead content to focus a hefty portion of the film's two-hour plus runtime on a relationship subplot between his character Doug and the young lady his gang held hostage at the beginning of the film (played by Rebecca Hall). Hall is a talented young actress and puts in a fine performance, but her chemistry with Affleck is minimal. Their supposedly loving relationship has little foundation and loses legs altogether when the film hits its final act. The riveting and entertaining final scenes of the film are sullied slightly by the sappy conclusion that is instigated by this illogical romance. When I saw trailers for this film I thought the idea of such a romance between a robber and a former hostage was pretty novel (and I still do), but it never reached anywhere near its potential.
However, the film on the overall is an entertaining piece of cinema with some great performances and action. Affleck might be better off behind the camera, but he's now proven that he can succeed in front of it as well. I'm very interested to see where his career goes from here.