Director: Ben Affleck Release Date: 24/09/10 Link: IMDB With his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck showed he shouldn’t be taken lightly as a filmmaker. With his sophomore effort, /I>The Town, which is based on the 2004 novel Prince of Thieves Affleck has proven his incredible talent behind the camera was no fluke. Actually, if Affleck is able to continually churn out quality films that are as flawless in execution as his first two, we might have another Martin Scorsese on our hands. But, as it stands right now, the two directors already share a number of similarities, especially when looking at their early careers. Both are smart enough to surround themselves with an insanely skilled cast and crew, both focus on conflicted characters who mean well even though it may not always seem that way and both deal with issues that can seldom be viewed in black and white. But the biggest parallel of all is their practice of using their movies as sort of a love letter to their hometowns — a gritty and unflinching love letter, that is. Scorsese and Affleck don’t always show New York City and Boston in a favourable light, but that is what makes their movies so memorable and authentic. You get to witness the all things that happen behind the scenes in these East Coast cities — even if they are things you would never want to see in person. It’s not all about the glitz and the glamour — it’s about being real. In the 31 years I’ve been on this planet I have never visited the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, but The Town makes it seem like I have lived there my entire life. Affleck really has a finger on the pulse of the people who reside there, which truly causes the city to feel like a living and breathing entity that should’ve been added to the cast list. And that makes everything even more frightening seeing as, according to the film, Charlestown has produced more bank and armoured vehicle robbers than anywhere in the U.S. You see, armed burglaries are not something taken lightly in Charlestown. It’s sort of like a family business that is passed down from father to son and Doug MacRay, who is played by Affleck, is stuck right in the middle with no way out. (Affleck reportedly decided against starring in Gone Baby Gone because he wanted to focus on all the filmmaking aspects, but this time around he felt confident in taking on the two jobs. Well, I guess you could say three since he also co-wrote the script with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard.) Doug may work days as an employee with Boston Sand and Gravel, but where he makes his real money is pulling off meticulously planned armed robberies with his three loyal friends, Jem (Jeremy Renner), Slaine (Albert Magloan) and Desmond (Owen Burke). The masked foursome’s heists always go as planned, but their spotless record receives quite a blemish when, during their latest robbery, Jem decides to take a bank manager named Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. Claire is later released unharmed, but Jem gets exceptionally nervous when he learns she lives just a few blocks away and could potentially identify her captors to the Feds. Knowing Jem is a loose cannon who could become unstable at a moment’s notice, Doug agrees to follow Claire instead to find out exactly what she knows. She doesn’t know much — including who Doug really is — and as they continue to meet over the coming days, their "chance" encounter develops into a passionate romance, one he keeps secret from his partners in crime. Because of his relationship with Claire, Doug decides it is time to move out of Charlestown and leave his checkered past behind, but he finds bidding farewell will not be as easy as he thinks. The Feds, led by Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm of TV’s Mad Men), are getting closer to cracking the case, and Jem, who is about as unpredictable as the weather, isn’t too thrilled about the thought of saying goodbye. I know I have spent a significant amount of this review lauding Affleck for his successful attempt at immersing the audience in a sense of place, but his most impressive accomplishment of all is his ability to get the most out of his actors — including himself. I always compare the job of a director to that of a sports coach. A team or a cast can have the most gifted players or actors in the world, but that doesn’t always translate to a winning formula. It’s on the shoulders of the coach or the director to demand 100 percent from his team and ensure everyone works together as a cohesive unit, and Affleck pulls this off impeccably. Renner’s explosive portrayal of a man teetering on the brink of insanity should conjure up memories of James Cagney in 1949’s White Heat and Affleck gives what should be considered the best and most commanding performance of his career. (Watch Affleck’s facial expressions during the whole scene where Doug first confronts Claire in a Laundromat. That is what acting is all about. Oh, and if Renner got an Oscar nomination for his work on last year’s The Hurt Locker, he should expect to hear his named called again in January.) But it’s not like the lead dogs are the only ones who give stellar performances. Chris Cooper is unequivocally riveting in his one scene as Doug’s jailed-for-life father and Pete Postlethwaite is absolutely terrifying in his few moments as a crime boss who uses a flower shop business as a front. Even Blake Lively of television’s Gossip Girl deserves respect as a single mother strung out on drugs. And when you mix all of these astounding performances together, you get a blend of complex personalities that are next to impossible to read. As a matter of fact, the tension that is created by all the characters’ secrets and shady motivations is so thick you could cut it with Crocodile Dundee’s knife. (I couldn’t believe how much my hands were shaking during the moment when Doug, Claire and Jem take part in a conversation at an outdoor cafe.) Add that to the blood-pumping bank robbery sequences and you might have trouble falling asleep for a few days. (The car chase on the narrow streets of the North End and the heist and subsequent shootout at Fenway Park are about as close to a perfectly orchestrated action scene as you can get.) Be that as it may, The Town is still so much more than an aesthetically pleasing suspense thriller that is a suitable substitute for caffeine — it’s a compelling drama and a thinking man’s film as well. Just like Gone Baby Gone, your mind will be traveling all over the place when you walk out of the theater, only this time your thoughts will center around loyalty and the notion that people are products of their environment. Even after the success of Gone Baby Gone, it’s still difficult to comprehend that The Town comes from the same guy who starred in such disasters as Gigli, Phantoms and /I>Paycheck. You sure have come a long way, Mr. Affleck. Photobucket