On his Twitter feed, Leverage producer John Rogers said that anyone who directs movies like Gone Baby Gone and The Town deserves to be called one of our country's best directors. That's a good observation. Let's just zip over to IMDB real quick and see who it was that directed those two fine films and WHAT? BEN AFFLECK? The guy from Paycheck/Pearl Harbor/Armageddon/Jersey Girl/Surviving Christmas? Ben "Gigli" is now one of our finest filmmakers? How did we, as a nation, allow this to happen? Did the Republicans filibuster the legislation that would have prevented this?
Snark, aside, I've always liked Ben Affleck. Oh, not for any of the crap mentioned above. I like him for movies like Good Will Hunting, Boiler Room and Changing Lanes. I like him for The Sum of All Fears, a movie whose sole fan seems to be me but that's how it goes sometimes. More recently, I like him for the outstanding Gone Baby Gone, a movie you couldn't see him in because he was behind the camera the whole time though, coincidentally, the lead character was played by a guy whose last name was also Affleck. Hell of a coincidence, that. Now I can like him for being writer/director/lead actor of the new heist film The Town.
Calling it a heist film does it a bit of a disservice, I suppose. It's like saying 2001: A Space Odyssey is a space film. It's more of a character study of people who happen to be robbers. The movie opens by informing me that the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston has spawned more bank robbers than any other area on the planet. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, leader of a group of thieves that does this neighborhood proud. Joining him in his criminal pursuits is The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner playing violent loose cannon James Coughlin to Doug's calm, cool professional who tries to avoid violence and bloodshed. I'm not sure what makes James so crazy though it may be that his sister, Krista, is played by Blake Lively which means he knows a girl who's a dead ringer for Blake Lively that he can never see naked.
Trouble is introduced to the group when, during a bank robbery, James suddenly gets the brilliant idea to take the bank's assistant manager, a woman named Claire (Rebecca Hall) along as a hostage. Doug decides to follow her around for a bit to see if she would be able to identify them. Doug and Claire simultaneously make the mistake of finding the other one attractive and start falling for each other. Doug does this knowing full well that his best friend is a crazy man who wants to kill this woman and that his friend's sister is an unstable drug addict as well as his sometime girlfriend. It's an unlikely scenario, of course, but Affleck constructs Doug's evolving relationship with Claire in such a natural and logical way that you could see it happening.
The Town is like an old fashioned movie in that it allows for fully developed supporting characters. People like Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper are allowed to be interesting and memorable on screen even though none of them are the movie's biggest star. Co-writer/director/producer/star Affleck could have easily taken all of their best lines and given them to himself, something you often see in big budget studio films but instead he decided to make an interesting film that people would actually want to see.
It amazes me that, along with Easy A, I saw two good movies in a row. It also amazes me that the guy who embarrassed himself in Bounce and Reindeer Games took on three different tasks in the making of this movie and excelled in all of them. Possibly, the price for this and Gone Baby Gone will be that Affleck has to make Pearl Harbor 2 but I think that would be worth it.