So, I’ve never been a big Ben Affleck fan. I’ve never particularly disliked him either; I guess I just haven’t had strong feelings about him either way. I loved Good Will Hunting back in the day and was super impressed that he and Matt Damon wrote that when they were, like, 25 years old, but the majority of his work as an actor is merely luke warm, in my opinion.
I began to see him in a more favorable light in 2007 when I saw Gone Baby Gone, which he co-wrote and directed. This was based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name and it kind of blew me away. It wasn’t perfect- parts of Casey Affleck’s performance seemed over-acted to me (though, overall, I thought he gave a decent performance) and it felt a tad slow at times. But its redeeming qualities, of which there were a great many, more than made up for anything lacking. Amy Ryan gave an outstanding performance and, though I still haven’t seen Michael Clayton, so I can’t say anything about Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance, I do wish Ryan had won. This flick also contains one of the most intense, heart-stopping scenes I’ve ever seen, which made me discover some things about myself that I hadn’t known before. The plot was well-paced and engaging, and the feel of the low-class Boston neighborhood was dead on.
A couple of nights ago, I finally got around to seeing The Town, the second major motion picture Affleck has directed. Also one of its writers and the lead star, he managed to solidify the notion I came away with after seeing Gone Baby Gone: that his talents as a writer and director are, by far, his greatest strengths. Maybe it’s just because he’s all grown up now, but he has really come into his own.
The Town, if you haven’t seen it, focuses on a small group of career criminals who rob banks and armored trucks. That’s right, they are far from petty thieves. Rather, very cunning, skilled men who seem to love the thrill of the crime as much as the monetary reward. Affleck artfully plays the lead, Doug MacRay, who falls for the primary witness in one of their robberies, bank manager Claire Keesey. Rebecca Hall, of Vicky Christina Barcelona, gives a mediocre performance as Claire, as does the only other female in this flick, Blake Lively. Or maybe they simply suffer by comparison, since the men- Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite, Slaine, Chris Cooper, and Titus Welliver- are all at the top of their game.
Affleck nailed the feel of the neighborhood, Charlestown, apparently the bank robbery capital of America, and portrayed the two male leads, MacRay and Jim Coughlin (Renner), as far more than one-dimensional criminals. He captured their friendship and history without blatant explanations or flashbacks, something not easily done. The suspense and severity were aptly depicted without being overly dramatic. It wasn’t perfect, I would have liked better chemistry between Affleck and Hall and a little more screen time for Renner, who gave a seriously impressive performance, but it is definitely one of the better movies I’ve seen in a few years and one of the best crime thrillers I’ve ever seen.
I saw on IMDb that Affleck is currently directing another flick, something called Argo, due out in 2013, and I hope he maintains the high standard that now, after seeing Gone Baby Gone and The Town, I’ve come to expect.