Visually breathtaking, emotionally exciting and remarkably moving, Ben Affleck's second directing effort is a true masterpiece and one of the best films of the year, while Jeremy Renner gives a powerhouse performance worthy of Oscar consideration.
That all ended with his directorial debut "Gone Baby Gone" starring his brother Casey Affleck, which achieved exceptional reviews and began to make people think twice about the abilities of the actor that was once written off as simply "Matt Damon's sidekick." With his new film, "The Town," which also features Affleck in front of the camera this time, he is able to cement himself as an exceptional writer/director and actor who knows how to make a great film. Affleck's direction is sharp, smart and stunning. Some of the aerial shots of Boston are just gorgeous and the director contrasts that with the starkness of the city's tougher neighborhood streets. The script is quick, clever and gets to the point of the matter in an honest and realistic way. Affleck champions the film with his leadership behind and in front of the camera, anchoring the film with what is truly his best onscreen performance since "Good Will Hunting." That is quite an accomplishment when you consider the gifted cast of actors that he surrounded himself with in this movie including Oscar winner Chris Cooper ("Adaptation"), Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker"), John Hamm ("Mad Men"), Titus Welliver ("Lost"), Pete Postlethwaite ("The Constant Gardner") and Rebecca Hall ("Please Give"). All the actors are at the top of their game here but Renner especially shines in his first post-"The Hurt Locker" role and I wouldn't be surprised if we see the young actor nominated for another Academy Award this year.
The film begins by introducing us to Charlestown, a community within Boston that is the bank robbing capital of the world and has a nasty reputation for crime. We witness a robbery in progress by four bank robbers dressed in "Skeleton" masks holding automatic machine guns. They are professional and know what they are doing as they leave almost no clues behind, but when one of the robbers gets more violent with a bank worker than needed he hastily takes a female bank teller (Rebecca Hall) hostage. Ultimately they let her go but become concerned that she might be the missing link to getting them all caught. The crew is lead by Doug MacRay (Affleck) a former Hockey star that didn't make it professionally because of his drinking and violent demeanor. He has returned to the community he comes from and while he has stopped drinking and is trying to change his life, he gets caught back up in the family business and begins planning bank robberies for he and his friends carry out. His best friend is Jem Coughlin (an absolutely mesmerizing Renner), a tough-as-nails Charlestown "lifer" who just got out of prison after nine years. Doug's ex-girlfriend is Krista (Blake Lively), a drug addicted, single mother who also happens to be Jem's sister and with no where left to go, Doug has been forced to move in with the Coughlin siblings.
The guys are doing the robberies in conjunction with the town crime boss Fergie the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), which is who Doug's father (Chris Cooper) worked for before he was pinched and went to prison. After the bank robbery Jem thinks that Claire, the female bank teller, could be a loose end but fearing that he will kill her, Doug offers to keep an eye on her instead. But this leads to the two eventually meeting each other and beginning a relationship that could jeopardize everyone involved. Hot on the bank robber's tails are Special Agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm) of the FBI and his partner Dino Ciampa (the unappreciated Titus Welliver), who grew up in the neighborhood and knows all of the players intimately. With the heat coming down on them the crew plans another job, this time dressed as nuns, but all Doug wants to do is leave the "life" and "The Town" for good with his new love Claire. Things become complicated when Jem discovers Doug and Claire's romance and Agent Frawley finally tells Claire who Doug really is. Now with the FBI closing in on Doug and his friends, Fergie forces the crew to do one last extremely risky job ... rob Fenway Stadium. Fearing for Claire's safety from Fergie, Doug agrees but must elude agent Frawley, while keeping Jem under control if he ever hopes to see Claire again and get out of "The Town" alive.
Rebecca Hall gives a touching and nearly heartbreaking performance as Claire. You can truly feel the pain that she is going through after her initial abduction and her sense of betrayal when she finds out the truth about Doug. Chris Cooper is excellent as Doug's convicted father as is Pete Postlethwaite as Fergie the Florist. John Hamm and Titus Welliver both give wonderfully believable performances as the FBI agents and Hamm especially gives off just the right sense of arrogance to his character so that although technically he is the "good guy" you don't end up rooting for him to win. Blake Lively was more than adequate as Krista giving a surprisingly mature performance against heavyweights like Hamm, Affleck and Renner. But it is Renner's performance as Jem that is really a standout here. Renner did not grow up in Boston like Affleck did, which is what makes his performance so stunning. He really nails it! Renner gives one of the most authentic performances of a person living in Boston that I've ever seen on screen. I knew several "Jems" when I was growing up in the Boston area and Renner's performance reminded me of some of my old friends, real life guys that are also hard-as-nails and signify everything that is great about living in the Hub. I was completely captivated and mesmerized by Renner's performance, which deserves an Oscar nomination for sure.
In fact, I think the film should definitely be on the short list for best picture and for that matter Affleck for directing as well because this is by far one of the best films of the year so far. The filmmaker may have made the best Boston crime movie since Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" and pound-for-pound it may even be better. I will admit the movie definitely has a lot of similarities to Michael Mann's "Heat" but it successfully feels more like inspiration than imitation. In the end, "The Town" is a true triumph not just for Affleck as a director but also for him as an artist. While his acting in the film is appropriate it is his direction and script that are really impressive and make this film come alive. It's a must-see for any fan of heist movies and for that matter of Boston in general. It's possible that much like Clint Eastwood was marginalized for his acting early in his career and then reintroduced himself later as a visionary director who can also act, Affleck could end up walking that same path. With this movie the actor more than makes up for "Daredevil" and "Gigli," and I think that we can officially forgive him for those previous disasters. Ben Affleck is officially a real director now and a damn fine one at that!