The Town
For the last time, Matt Damon ISN’T GOING TO BE HERE!!

Theatrical Release Date: 09/17/2010
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine, Owen Burke, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, Titus Welliver

For all of the jokes I like to make at Ben Affleck’s expense, there is one thing I do not doubt: the man’s got real talent behind the camera. First there was his part in the “Good Will Hunting” script, for which he and his BFF Matt Damon won the Academy Award. Then there was his directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone” (which he also co-wrote); the film put me on notice regarding his cinematic abilities and landed itself on my Top 10 films of 2007.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding his latest effort, “The Town”, in which he not only co-writes and directs, but takes the lead role. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival, hoping his first directed feature wasn’t a fluke; and my hopes have been answered. Simply put, “The Town” is one of the top 5 films of the year for sure, and probably the best “mainstream” film (even over the deservedly heralded “Inception“).

The film takes place in Charlestown, Massachusetts – an infamous Boston suburb where bank robbery is a family business, passed on through the generations. Affleck and his crew (Jeremy Renner, Slaine, Owen Burke) are good at what they do. Very good. Working via a shady handler (Pete Postlethwaite), they’re given all the information necessary to pull off quick, lucrative, and hopefully body count free heists of armored cars and banks all over the 617 (that’s the major area code … see, I’m down with the kids and their lingo). One heist necessitates a hostage (Rebecca Hall), who must later be followed by Affleck to ensure she can’t give the FBI any details. This entanglement leads to doubts about his career path and throughout the course of a couple more jobs, the crew’s fate is determined.

I know, that’s a lot of plot … and I’m sorry. The bottom line for whether you’re in the demographic is one’s enjoyment of heist films and if I’m going to compare this to anything, I’m going to measure it against “Heat” – which is hefty f’n praise. Now, director Michael Mann’s opus does have this beat in runtime (a dubious distinction) and star power, and although there are some excellent action scenes in “The Town”, nothing rivals the downtown shootout in L.A. between De Niro’s crew and the City of Angels’ finest. However, both involve high quality ensemble casts, masterful direction and a smart script that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.

To fill out his cast, Affleck brought in one of the most sought-after commodities right now, Jeremy Renner, to play his right hand man. Renner’s quietly impressed for many years but with his breakout in last year’s “The Hurt Locker“, it was a fantastic choice and the pair share remarkably natural chemistry. Slaine and Owen Burke don’t get a lot of character development but don’t feel at all like simple bit characters. Jon Hamm gets to play the holier-than-thou FBI agent in charge, and shades his character just right between justice seeking and a take no prisoners attitude.

Not to be outdone by the fellas, Blake Lively sheds her “Gossip Girl” persona and adds a necessary element of the dysfunctional family to ground the characters. Then there’s Rebecca Hall, who people may not know by name but they better start recognizing that when she’s in the cast list, expect the best. She ditches her British accent to play the innocent bystander caught between Affleck’s illegal activities and the FBI manhunt. She exudes a natural charm and vulnerability, all while manifesting a strength of character which never makes her feel like just another damsel in distress. She’s a strong woman, though still just as prone to following her heart instead of her head as any real person would be.

Keeping the story together is a well-written script by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard (who co-wrote “Gone Baby Gone”). Although I’ve never read the novel this is all based on (“Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan), I would imagine any future novels by him will be coveted fodder for future screenplays. There may not be too many big speeches in the script, but it is so well balanced in terms of providing character details, moving the film along at all times and finding a way to include humor only when it’s natural and necessary – in an otherwise action and drama heavy project.

I think by now you get the gist of my opinion. “The Town” is easily going to factor into the year’s best films and the biggest question I had once the credits began to roll was to wonder why the studio didn’t delay the release until the more traditional award campaign months of November and December. A 5 out of 5, there’s no reason audiences who enjoy this type of film shouldn’t flock to theaters in order to actually get more than their money’s worth.

And while I’m still waiting to find out if Ben’s directing prowess is tied to his hometown roots, I wouldn’t complain one bit if he stayed in the area and just kept pumping out cinematic gems like this one; a few more pictures of this high quality will have me calling him the Martin Scorsese of Boston. (And to think, this guy was “Gigli” … proof that sheer talent can overcome poor choices.)