x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The Town

The Town is a watchable crime drama, but Ben Affleck still has some way to go to prove himself as a director.

Director: Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall

***

 

Having bowled over the critics and public alike with his directorial debut, 2007's award-winning Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's second feature The Town proves him to be anything but a one-trick pony.

Lest we forget, this is a man who, over a decade earlier, had Hollywood eating out of the palm of his hand after winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (alongside his childhood friend Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting. But while Damon's star has continued to ascend over the years, Affleck's career was floundering a few years ago, his recent revival having swung the pendulum of success – both critical and financial – back in his favour.

A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Affleck has stayed close to home once again, this time, placing the action right at the heart of Charleston, a predominantly working-class neighbourhood with a heavy Irish-American presence. Affleck – who also co-wrote the screenplay – stars as Doug MacRay, a once-promising ice-hockey player who has since turned to a life of crime, his jailbird father and close-knit group of deplorable friends having played their part in his social downfall.

Robbing a bank in the affluent city of Cambridge, Doug and his three friends first kidnap the beautiful young bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as a means of leverage, before releasing her, unharmed, shortly thereafter. Keeping tabs on Claire – as much for his own personal interest as to keep his violently unstable friend, Jem (Jeremy Renner), from silencing her – the two quickly develop a closer relationship, causing the directionless Doug to reassess his situation. Affleck is decent enough as the criminal with a conscience, as is Renner as Jem.

It is, however, hard to connect with many of the characters, Doug's tenderness for Claire and act of goodwill in the final scene hardly making up for his previous activity. As far as the acting goes, the clear standout – at least in terms of the departure from her normal type of role – is Blake Lively.

Better known as one of the polished and primped stars of the popular television show Gossip Girl, Lively is in her element as the despondent and drug-addled single mother, Krista, Jem's sister and a previous fling of Doug's. From her convincing thick accent all the way to her cheap-looking getup, Lively embodies the character fully in all her bleak glory.

The second to last film to feature the British actor Pete Postlethwaite, who died last month after a long battle with cancer, Affleck's second outing as a director is a worthy tribute to his memory. Postlethwaite's minor role as a tyrannical Irish mobster, the Florist, is one of the film's strongest.

Although The Town is not bad watching, it is a more tired effort than one would have expected from the rejuvenated actor and certainly not as good as some of its reviews suggest. The unjustified hype is possibly the result of people's pleasant surprise that Affleck isn't the write-off everyone took him for. The talent is there, but Affleck will need to branch out further to prove his real worth.