When it comes to a roller coaster career, it’s hard to find anyone who can match the highs and lows of Ben Affleck.
An Oscar winner for screenwriting 1997’s “Goodwill Hunting” at age 25, Affleck’s career hit rock bottom with “Gigli” in 2003. But Affleck has steadily rebuilt his resume, the latest his second directorial effort, “The Town.”
Like his directing debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” this is a gritty, authentic look at the seedy underbelly of Boston, with Affleck leading an outstanding cast. This is another solid effort behind the camera from the 38-year-old, firmly establishing him as a rising filmmaker.
“The Town” tells the story of a group of childhood friends from Charleston, a blue-collar neighborhood in Boston, who have made a living as armed robbers.
The latest job, a bank robbery, ends with the crew taking a young lady named Claire (Rebecca Hall) as a hostage. Since they committed the crime in disguises and Claire hasn’t seen their faces, they let her go, but soon learn she lives in the same neighborhood.
The group’s leader, Doug (Affleck), decides to befriend the woman to see how much she knows about them and if she can possibly pin the robbery on them.
This friendship quickly turns to romance, with Doug eager to put his life of crime behind him and start a new life with Claire.
But Doug soon learns his past can’t be left behind that easily, forcing him to come clean about his past.
A Boston native, Affleck clearly has an understanding of the ins and outs of the neighborhood - and like “Gone Baby Gone,” he brings that area to the screen with a rich story and strong characters.
The cast is first-rate. Jeremy Renner, as Doug’s longtime friend and partner in crime, follows up “The Hurt Locker” with another outstanding performance. Jon Hamm from television’s “Mad Men” is also very good as an FBI agent on the trail of the bank robbers. There is also some good supporting work from veterans Pete Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper, as well as Blake Lively.
To his credit, Affleck is very capable in the lead, with a performance nearly as good as his previous best, “Hollywoodland.” I’ve also been a big fan of Hall since “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” I think this is a film that might lead to bigger and better roles.
The strong cast is given good material and a confident eye behind the lens from Affleck, who delivers a film that is ultimately a cross between “Heat” and “The Departed.” Affleck shows he can handle a film heavy on strong characters, but also proves to be a solid director of action sequences - especially during a chase sequence through the streets of Boston and a finale that involves a robbery in Fenway Park.
The result is one of the fall season’s first must sees. This isn’t quite on the level of “Gone Baby Gone,” but it is still a very strong - and entertaining - film.
Also in theaters
If you are looking for something a little lighter, I suggest the delightful new teen comedy “Easy A” (B+), a cross between “Mean Girls” and the John Hughes films from the 1980s that features a star-making performance from Emma Stone.
Stone plays Olive, a clean-cut high school girl who tells a lie to her best friend (Alyson Michalka) about losing her virginity.
That lie quickly spreads and Olive is labeled the school slut. Instead of denying the rumors, Olive embraces it - using her new reputation to advance her social and financial standing.
This is a smart and funny film that works largely due to Stone. The 21-year-old actress has shown she can handle her own with supporting work in “Superbad” and “Zombieland,” but she makes the most of her first starring role, giving a performance that is full of sass and spunk, but also sweet and kind of vulnerable.
Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell and Stanley Tucci are also good. Amanda Bynes brings all she can to a role that is essentially a retread of Mandy Moore’s character in “Saved.”
Bynes’ character and a couple of plot twists keep this from being a perfect teen comedy, but it is still very good. Besides, any film that gleefully acknowledges Hughes with a montage, and then proceeds to borrow the blueprint for those films, will always have a soft spot in my heart.
“Easy A” does that and more, resulting in a film teens and their parents can both enjoy.
“Easy A” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, language and some drug material and is now playing at the Greenwood Mall 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.