Ben Affleck’s latest brainchild, “The Town,” is also his latest ploy at attracting fans of the crime/ gangster/ heist genre. His first was “Gigli.” The film is entertaining and piqued my interest at times, but overall the experience was tedious. Affleck casts himself as the lead whose moral dilemma is the center the film’s events. The classic gangster-tragedy is explored but Affleck doesn’t experiment with the formula.
“The Town” follows a four-man crew on a series of robberies throughout the Boston area. Jeremy Renner plays Affleck’s unbalanced, long-time pal. Renner’s character takes the bank manager, Rebecca Hall, as collateral in the first heist of the movie, setting the plot in motion. After freeing their hostage, Affleck attempts to ensure Hall won’t talk to the feds at Renner’s bidding. A relationship unfolds as the Charlestown local is attracted to a more legal life; Hall’s recently broken psyche is susceptible to Affleck’s Bostonian charm; he’s not actually from Boston but you’d never think it after seeing “The Town.”
Affleck traces a subtle metaphor throughout the narrative by intensifying the robberies: as Affleck’s control over his love for Hall diminishes, so does his authority over heists. Contrast the third robbery’s tragic ending at one of Boston’s most well-known landmarks with the flawless sophistication of the first. Renner’s erratic behavior and Affleck’s emotional turmoil fracture the moral code Affleck creates throughout the film. The moral hierarchy of “The Town” is predictable as Affleck slowly reevaluates his criminal life. He realizes some people are morally untarnished, like his new crush Hall (she volunteers at the Y), and then there’s Affleck’s ex-girlfriend and child, both of whom he abandons in order to save Hall. Affleck’s sacrificial catharsis comes ambiguously, just like any good gangster flick.
The narrative befuddles the audience by hiding Afflecks’s true intentions. It is unclear whether Affleck truly loves Hall, or the idea of a straight life. Is he making choices to save her or himself? By the end of the film I felt like Affleck was saying, “Look at how badass I am while I save the youth of Charlestown.”
Affleck is a badass in the film, besides the fact that he is Jesus of Charlestown. Affleck creates a somewhat plastic atmosphere of what it would be like growing up in this community: there’s a lot of fighting, Irish tattoos and Boston accents.
Affleck suggests the cornerstone of criminal activity in Charlestown is family. Renner and Affleck’s brotherhood is challenged as Affleck begins his moral upheaval. Affleck must make a choice to abandon a family he has known in order to provide restoration to the wider community of Charlestown.
Jon Hamm’s performance cannot go unnoticed. Hamm is an FBI agent and Affleck’s foil. And he’s also a major dick. Affleck and Hamm only have one scene together, in which Hamm interrogates Affleck. The film does a good job of masking the muddling identities of good and bad. Affleck robs banks and armored cars, yet you want him to survive and make things right. Hamm investigates the robberies, yet he threatens suspects and witnesses with a sort of detached bemusement. Take, for instance, Affleck’s ex-girlfriend, a pilled-up mother caught between Affleck and the FBI. Hamm intimidates her by threatening to take her child away forever, leading to the third-act finale showdown between the police and the crew of robbers.
This movie is entertaining on many levels. Moments may seem tedious but laughter and action give the film a nice pace. Affleck may not be the most talented filmmaker… but he certainly is the most handsome.