Thursday, 9 September 2010
Venice 2010: The Town
Ben Affleck’s well-received directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, demonstrated the actor — and Oscar-winning screenwriter of Good Will Hunting, let’s not forget — was just as capable behind the camera as in front of it. For his sophomore effort, a brisk, powerful and highly absorbing adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s bestseller Prince Of Thieves, Affleck not only directs and co-wrote the script, but heads up an impressive ensemble as former professional ice hockey player turned armed robber Doug MacRay, the leader of a four-man crew from Boston’s Charlestown district who rob banks with brutal efficiency.
The film begins with an onscreen card informing us that Charlestown has produced more bank and armoured car robbers than anywhere in the US then takes the audience straight into a riveting, crisply edited opening sequence in which Affleck’s crew hold up a Boston bank, then take Claire (Rebecca Hall), the assistant manager, hostage before letting her go. But Jem (The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner), MacRay’s loose canon, second in command is concerned Claire might be able to identify them, especially when it turns out she’s from their neighbourhood. And so MacRay takes it upon himself to follow her around, but, soon, he’s smitten and the pair start a relationship, his blue-collar criminal seeing in her a chance at redemption and a way out of his nefarious lifestyle. Only, quitting is never easy when armed robbery is in the blood and Pete Postlethwaite’s malicious mob boss is relying on you to keep the jobs coming in. Meanwhile, Jon Hamm’s hardnosed FBI agent is on the crew’s tail…
As director, Affleck’s style is efficient and unfussy but remarkably assured. He takes his time developing characters you care about, realising that without the human drama, the other stuff doesn’t work. The performances across the board are excellent, right down to Chris Cooper’s brief cameo as MacRay’s incarcerated bank robbing pop and Blake Lively as his white-trash flirty former flame.
Well crafted and well acted, The Town reveals Affleck’s gift not only with his actors but with action, too — there are several riveting, high-adrenaline set pieces, beginning with MacRay’s well-drilled crew taking down Hall’s bank and ending with an audacious robbery and shoot out at Fenway Park, that Michael Mann would be proud to call his own. It’s the kind of smart, stylish, entertaining and grown-up movie that the studios are making less and less of these days and which, on the strength of his first two films, Affleck is clearly very good at.