Not good, not promising. Great. And while we’re at the list of things I didn’t think I would ever say.
Ben Affleck is a fucking badass.
But we’ll get to that later. I knew I liked, perhaps even loved Affleck as a director going into The Town. But it was something I knew on a detached intellectual level. As the record states I hold Gone Baby Gone in the highest possible regard. But it was something I knew only on an intellectual level. Some part of me was still expecting the star of Jersey Girl and Gigli to be a flash in the pan. To prove to be the big dumb lug who wasted his modest talent starring in one of the biggest runs of dreck on record from a major star from 1998 to 2006. But low and behold The Town not only lives up to high bar set by Gone Baby Gone, it clears it. Because while half of Gone Baby Gone’s success can be layed at the feet of its superlative source material, The Town took a mediocre airport crime thriller and somehow turned it into the greatest crime film since Heat.
This film should be taught in classes as the gold standard of how to adapt a book to film.
He slashes the distracting and cheesy love triangle that lay like a poison pill at the novel’s center, exponentially strengthening the film’s two core relationships in the process, gives real heart to the conflict at the center of the film, and really nails our hero in a beat that the novel lets him completely off the hook for.
In short he took a book that was by the numbers and made it thrum with real passion. Took the flaccid robberies and soaked them with adreniline, including a ridiculously prolonged car chase, that for my money surpasses the running gun battle in Heat. One that ends with a beat so perfect I wanted to cheer.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Town thrives on the clichés of “The Criminal pulling one last job.” And “The bad man redeemed by the good woman.” The difference is that unlike Hogan Affleck turns them into grand archetypes, while still keeping them true to life.
Part of what crippled Prince Of Thieves is that Chuck Hogan cannot write women to save his life. If the woman’s not a vengeful harpy, she’s a blank slate who will probably end up “in the fridge” so to speak. This is problematic when you base the entire crux of your narrative around the fact that a woman is so wonderful that no one doesn’t want to love her, protect her, or kill her, and said woman as written is kind of a narcissistic drip. Its like he came up with Bella five years early.
Affleck cannily solves the problem by having only himself fall for her, thus eliminating a good 75% of the cheesy ridiculous inherent in the “Cop and Crook fight for love!! And The Street!” Inherent in the book. And thanks to Hall’s performance, it’s possible to see what someone would actually see in her. This also ramps up the vehemence between Hamm and Affleck, culminating in a scene that soaks in gasoline and lights afire fifteen years of “Cop and Criminal share grudging respect” perpetuated by Heat, in about two minutes.
It's just one piece of the movie’s crackingly dialogue (“Whose car we gonna take?”) credited to Affleck and Peter Craig. I’ll say it now. If The Town isn’t the best film I’ve seen this year, it’s the certainly best written.
And its here that Affleck’s talent really lies. He has an eye for composition, and a definite sense of energy. But it’s his writer’s ear for dialogue and his actor’s sense of timing, coupled with an uncommonly good eye for casting that keep his film’s thrumming with such unique energy.
Like Gone Baby Gone, he casts the film with lots of local color including Slaine who if there’s any justice in the world get a shit load of character work for his turn here as Gloansy. When there’s a short scene in an AA meeting, it populated with folks who look like they actually belong at AA meetings. He also gets good use out of Hamm pure masculine righteous menace. Renner, bringing the character a charisma not in the text. Hall as mentioned does fine work in a crucial role. Chris Cooper knocks it out of the park with a one scene roll. And Pete Postelthwaite horrifies as a profound figure of moral and physical rot.
It was Affleck’s final confrontation with Postlethwaite that convinced me that no matter how silly he looked in Daredevil, Ben Affleck was a bonafide badass. And it made me recall another Badass who American filmmakers didn’t know how to handle in his youth. Yes it's be premature to compare Affleck to Eastwood. I know that. And I know he has to make something like The Beguiled or Bird before he can really claim that right. But if he keeps making movies like this, I see no reason why he couldn’t be. I’d certainly hold The Town in as high regard in the badass cinema pantheon as The Outlaw Josey Welles.