Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm
Review: 4 stars (of five)
Ben Affleck works in front of and behind the camera to make a film about lower-class Boston, with the theme that if you’re the one ambitious person with a soul in all of lower-class Boston, you have no choice but to get the hell out, ’cause that place is draggin’ you down. Did I just Netflix Good Will Hunting, you ask? No, I watched the new version. This one has guns.
That was snark, right there, but actually, The Town is a pretty good cops-and-robbers flick, proving that Affleck is a good actor and, in his second outing, a very good director. It’s the story of a career bank robber from a family of career bank robbers. He and his crew are being relentlessly stalked by the square-jawed forces of law and order, and he’s falling in love with the beautiful woman who can be both his salvation and his downfall. Will he choose the woman, who represents his heart and his future, or his metaphorical brother, who ties him down to Boston’s bleak Charlestown district and the past?
The film wants us to connect a loss from Affleck’s past to his romantic entanglement and “career” issues in the present, but fails to draw the link. It then ties every problem in Affleck’s life into one vile background character so that a one-bullet solution can present itself. There’s a certain narcissism here that might be inevitable with the star directing himself: Characters exist only when they’re around Affleck. Affleck is in a robbery crew of four, but only one of them matters, and as the other two participate in the film’s climactic heist, we can’t care about their fates the way we should. Affleck’s girlfriend is off the screen, not existing at all, until he needs her. Fortunately, when she’s around, she’s charmingly and realistically played by Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), and the plot’s handling of her character’s ultimate dilemma is delicate and uncliched.
Affleck directs action really well, and the several heist sequences are compelling. As a drama, the script shuffles its feet here and there, perhaps the result of compressing down a novel, but it feels like the messiness of life. There’s enough skill, charm and solid acting here to get us through the rough patches and the familiarity of the basic story structure. The film’s weaknesses are consistently outweighed by its strengths, and don’t we all wish we could say as much?