It does my soul good to see how far Ben Affleck has climbed out of the gutter post-Gigli. It’s that same feeling I had when I realized what a funny guy Justin Timberlake is. You see them on TV, nod and say, “That’ll do, pig.” Not really sure where I was going with any of that, but when I saw that Affleck was pulling double duty as director and star of The Town, it made me even more excited to see it.
Charlestown, a working-class area of Boston, has produced more bank robbers than anywhere else in the country. That’s what the film tells us right before we’re thrown into the middle of the action, with Affleck and his crew who are, strangely enough, robbing a bank. Things seem to be going fine until bank manager Rebecca Hall triggers an alarm and Jeremy Renner, who plays the crew’s loose cannon, takes her as a bit of human collateral while they make their escape. After the dust has more or less settled, Renner’s worried there’s a chance she could make them to the cops and Affleck agrees to follow her to make sure she doesn’t cause any problems. Everything’s going just fine, until whoops! They fall for each other? Now we’ve got ourselves a movie!
While their relationship deals with some of the class differences between Hall’s haves and Affleck’s have-nots, there’s also a bit of the same going on between Affleck and Renner. Renner’s already served nine years in prison for a murder he committed when he was a teenager, and as he later tells Affleck while planning their last job, he can’t go back. It’s this or nothing. And the fact that he’s accepted his lot in life only expedites that process. Renner’s character doesn’t posses the skill or the intelligence to make any other life for himself were the situation any different. Affleck, on the other hand, is better than that, and on some base level recognizes it.
And I guess I have to wonder whether or not playing it that way was intentional on his part. At one point in the film, Affleck tells Renner, “I’m putting this whole town in my rear view.” The implication being that he had tried the same thing several times before, but just when he thought he was out, THEY PULLED HIM BACK IN! I never really bought that. It seemed like Affleck operated on the assumption that he was here now, doing what circumstances had forced him to do, but it was only a temporary gig and eventually he’d leave. That was and had always been the plan. It’ll be interesting to see how many people instead interpret it as Affleck not being able to throw himself into his part.
On the other side of the tracks are FBI agents Jon Hamm (who I was really happy didn’t try to affect a Boston accent) and his partner, Titus Welliver. There isn’t an incredible amount of depth to either of these two characters. Both are the deeply committed and singularly focused lawmen you normally see in movies like these. However, the parts are very well acted. There’s a great scene in which Hamm and Affleck are finally pitted against each other in an interrogation room.
A good story, good performances and some great action set pieces, The Town is a real meat and potatoes story. There’s a lot of subtext there, mostly between Affleck, Hall and Renner, but I don’t think you really need to get all of it to enjoy it. I’ve heard the film being compared to Michael Mann’s Heat, but don’t really think the comparison holds up. I think any heist movie with people in street shooting automatic weapons is doomed to draw the same comparison. Sure, this movie doesn’t have Val Kilmer with a ponytail, but not all movies can.