The Town (2009)
With Gone Baby Gone and now The Town, Ben Affleck is somewhat surprisingly about to establish himself as a prominent filmmaker, after an uneven, to put it mildly, career in the business so far. Having both adapted Dennis Lehane novels (Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, respectively), Affleck demonstrates in The Town that he may well be the heir to the tradition of filmmaking for which Clint Eastwood has been the strongest proponent during the past 25 years. What the two have in common, in addition to their quietly forceful acting styles, are the ability to combine gripping and authentic depictions of crime with soul-searching characters and interpersonal relations.
On the surface, The Town is a classically constructed heist movie, opening almost as en episode of TV's CSI: a violent crime is committed, detectives exchange banter as they set up the investigation, and then we get a behind-the-scenes peek at the criminals and their lives. The difference, however, lies in the quality of the production. Ben Affleck's direction here is nothing short of brilliant. He strikes a perfect balance between serious drama and high-octane action, and his action scenes are crisp, gritty and entertaining. They feel incredible real without becoming exploitive or crude, and if the characters are often simple and have stereotypical traits, their background and situation is accounted for in such a way that their existence is substantiated. They have the right to be where and what they are, and at the same time, our protagonist Doug MacRay must fight for his right to break free from this very existence. It's a stark but relevant environmental portrait of an unforgiving neighbourhood and subculture which, claims the film, breeds criminals. These guys don't know of any other way of living, and they stand up for their code of honour - to such an extent even, that when Doug finally challenges it, he meets more resistance than he had bargained for.
If the plot lacks surprises, this is easily made up for by the intensity of the story, and with Affleck's tight, no-nonsense direction, the film adopts a timeless quality akin to the best heist movies of the 1960s and 1970s as well as Michael Mann's celebrated Heat. After two feature films both set in Affleck's own Boston, he has shown that he is much more confident and has a clearer voice surrounded by this material and environment than he ever had as a blockbuster lead. Here, his moral discussions have resonance, and although The Town isn't as ambiguous and morally challenging as Gone Baby Gone, it is a more focused and better told story.