The Town

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Rebecca Hall
Runtime: 123 mins
Rating: ****

The Town was bound to do well. Boasting a series of star names, a bombastic trailer and a big budget, this could have had no substance whatsoever and it would still rake in unjustified millions. What a relief, then, that it’s a great film.

Ben Affleck has always been one of those actors whose face I can’t take seriously. It might well be because I first saw him in Dogma, a notoriously foul-mouthed and brilliantly funny Kevin Smith flick. Or it might just be because he always looks so hilariously intense. Either way, seeing Affleck in any role other than a comic one is difficult. Combine that with the fact that I’m not really the type who enjoys crime thrillers, and that I might well have been the only person on the planet who didn’t enjoy co-star Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, and The Town had a lot to gain before I even felt neutral on it.

The best way to describe this film – which Affleck directs along with appearing in the lead role – is that it’s nothing more than the sum of its parts, but that those parts are fantastic on their own. It doesn’t make you go away thinking about bigger issues, like Goodfellas, and it isn’t true-to-life enough to completely absorb you, à la Public Enemies. But that’s fine. It doesn’t need to.

Affleck’s directorial style is good, if not great. There’s the odd shot which feels a little unnatural, especially a one-off flashback scene that completely ruins the mood. But beyond that, it’s relatively consistent, and manages to be effective but not overly obvious. This is his directorial follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Gone Baby Gone, and definitely feels like a progression. There are a series of panoramic shots of the Boston skyline throughout, but they never feel gratuitous.

As for the cast, it’s perfect. Rebecca Hall nails her American accent and is probably the standout amongst the major players. Jeremy Renner plays a wholly unsympathetic character with a short temper (like The Hurt Locker’s William James, but more despicable), and even Affleck himself is convincing as the anti-heroic lead. Special mention, however, has to go to Pete Postlethwaite as Fergie the Florist, in a role that manages to be both gleefully insane and scary-threatening – a little like Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast, but with a thick Irish accent and more wrinkles. Even Jon Hamm, familiar to most as Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men, puts in a decent turn that makes you want to see more of him on the big screen.

The plot is probably the weakest point, and very rarely manages to avoid genre cliché, but that’s fine – this is not the sort of film that requires your full engagement. This isn’t to say that it’s bad, just that this is a movie where the real triumph is in a series of brilliant performances, superb pacing and well-above standard cinematography. For once, can’t that be enough?

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