Toronto Review: Ben Affleck's New Crime Drama 'The Town'
by Alex Billington
September 11, 2010
And here we go… My very first movie of the Toronto International Film Festival this year was Ben Affleck's sophomore directorial effort The Town, based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves. Before I get into this, I want to preface it by saying that I'm a huge fan of Affleck's first film Gone Baby Gone, it's one of my personal all-time favorites, I loved it through and through. That said, The Town is not one of my favorites, not by a long shot. It's a solid film with some fantastic performances, but heavily flawed, with the script and dialogue being the weakest parts of it. I couldn't ever really get into it, and damn was Blake Lively terrible.
It's honestly very hard for me to say that I didn't really like The Town, but I've got to be true to my feelings, and that's how I felt walking out. In fact, throughout the entire film, I couldn't ever get into it. First off, the audio in our screening room was screwed up and it sounded like they turned off the surround sound so all we heard was mono audio from the center. I tried to look past it, but some of the action moments felt dull because of it. And overall I thought the film, especially the characters and story, lacked direction, like it was just Affleck trying to show off his home town of Boston while telling a fun popcorn movie story set around it.
Let's start with the positives first. Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm were the highlights, both of them did fantastic jobs in their roles, but that wasn't too surprising considering both of them are already two of the best actors currently working and they lived up to that acclaim. Affleck, on the other hand, should've stayed behind the lens, even though he wasn't bad. However, I don't understand why Blake Lively is getting any acclaim at all - she was awful! All of her scenes felt incredibly fake, very forced, like she was the pretty girl who'd never been in a dirty situation and was just trying her hardest to play a character that didn't fit her actual persona. I couldn't get passed her piss poor acting, but luckily she was only in this for a few scenes.
My biggest issue with The Town is that it felt like a Hollywood story without any polish, without any depth, and without any of the truly fascinating moral questions that Gone Baby Gone brings up. Affleck plays this supposedly brilliant "prince of thieves" who comes up with insanely elaborate criminal schemes, but how, or why - we don't ever find out. He's just smart and that's all we get. The story just jumps around from beat to beat too quickly and Affleck, as the director, never gives the audience the chance to fully get enveloped in the deeper story, he just keeps pushing it along like a glitzy Hollywood crime thriller, not an intricate crime drama (which I know he's capable of, because I saw it Gone Baby Gone). It needed a lot more of that depth.
The Town has been described by many of my colleagues as a popcorn film - and that's exactly what it is. I enjoyed some of parts of it, mostly all of the action scenes, especially in the later half. I thought all of those scenes were technically put together very well and were parts of the movie that I'd actually be excited to see again. But the story, and even the dialogue which felt rough in some parts, too often pulled me out of it. I don't want to spoil the ending, but it was so typical, so unoriginal. Why didn't they go for a braver ending that wasn't as predictable? I think it would've provided more of the depth that this so desperately needed.
Obviously these are just my own feelings about the movie, and I know other people seem to be enjoying it a lot more than I did. I do not think this was better than Gone Baby Gone, at all, and I think Affleck needs to concentrate more on just writing and directing in the future, rather than also worrying about acting and playing an important main character. I think his "experiment" of trying all three jobs didn't work and the film suffered for it. I know Affleck is capable of better, as seen in Gone Baby Gone, but I was immensely let down by his inability to really pull the audience into the story this time. The characters needed more depth and the script was weak. The Town, in my opinion, didn't deliver, and was only good, but far from great.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 6.5 out of 10