Affleck’s second directing effort, “The Town,” is a violent and heavy-hitting, albeit predictable, crime drama set in the Boston area of Charlestown: the bank robbing capital of the United States.
The movie starts off with a bang as Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his mob crew (which includes Jeremy Renner, fresh off his Oscar nomination for “The Hurt Locker”) hold up the bank in an elegantly planned attack, working around regular security vault openings and going to extensive measures to destroy security tapes and get rid of their DNA prints. However, James ‘Jem’ Coughlin (Renner), the young, reckless, fresh-out-of-prison member takes the bank assistant manager, Claire Keesey (Hall), hostage. This is against their rules and the liking of the other members, and they let her go harm free.
It’s not until after they release her that they find out she lives in Charlestown. At the request of a paranoid Jem, MacRay tracks her down to give her a scare, but instead she breaks down to him, admitting to a horrible week. The sympathetic MacRay asks her out for a drink.
Between the opening action and the climax, we get to see these characters come alive, and it’s the most exciting part of the film. There is one scene that really sticks out.
Doug is sitting down to lunch with Claire, and it is clear they have a growing romance (little does she know Doug is the one responsible for her post-hostage and robbery anxiety). After a short conversation, she excuses herself to go to the bathroom.
She returns to find that Jem had joined them. The conversation that follows does nothing but strike anxiety into the viewer and Affleck creates that gut-wrenching atmosphere that made his first feature as a director “Gone Baby Gone” so horrifying. Renner plays a sadistically friendly Jem in this scene while MacRay sits horrified.
Despite the film’s anxietic, character-driven center that keeps you glued to the screen, the final robbery scene comes in quickly and stays for too long, giving the movie a stock and an almost lazy feeling to the writing. This cuts the viewer short on the full story of these characters. The final action scene takes at least half an hour, and, although it is well done, it leaves a stale, formulaic taste with an over-abundance of cops and automatic weapons and unrealistically few deaths.
Although the climax does take away from MacRay’s revelation of how he wants out to pursue a better life and leaves you a bit disappointed with just a few snippets of his life including his father and his day job, Affleck has certainly shown another stellar directing performance, and a surprisingly good acting job. His portrayal of MacRay is very believable, and with the rest of the strong supporting cast throwing in stellar performances (excluding Blake Lively, who seems miscast and out of place), it completely enhances the realism of the film.
Oscar winner Robert Elswit’s cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking. My only complaint about Elswit’s work is the overabundance of aerial shots of Charlestown. Not that they aren’t great, there are just too many of them. Otherwise, he does a great job of mixing subjective camera work to fit with the noir-ish undertones of the film and beautifully shot action scenes.
Although ‘The Town’ doesn’t live up to the legacy of the mean street crime directors of Scorsese or Copolla, it certainly is a well-constructed film proving that Affleck has the skills to be the next great Hollywood amateur, but he needs to decide if he wants to be the next Scorsese or the next Michael Bay.