Ben Affleck’s latest film The Town is the kind of film that should make any reasonable movie watcher uncomfortable. The narrative forces us to sympathize with and shout encouragement for Affleck’s character, despite the fact that he’s a criminal. Even though he plans on turning his life around, he still engages in criminal activity. He is a bad guy, plain and simple, but viewers are supposed to find him lovable.
The simple truth is that I couldn’t find any reason to hope that Affleck’s character would escape Jon Hamm’s FBI agent. I wanted him caught and imprisoned because no matter how well intentioned he was presented, he was still involved in crime and perpetuating the violence acts of his friend. The narrative structure failed to discourage my longing for a just world in which criminals are appropriately punished. I wonder if that was the goal.
Regardless of that, the film was very well written and excellently performed. Ben Affleck brought his A-game, and Jon Hamm showed me that he can be someone other than Don Draper. (Although the scene in which he’s drinking liquor and another in which he was in a bar felt somehow more natural thanks to my expectations being programmed by repeated viewings of Mad Men.) There was not a single performance I could fault. 94% on Rotten Tomatoes sounds very appropriate.
You know what my favorite part of the film was? The subversion of my expectation, probably not even on purpose. In most films of this sort, when the woman discovers that her man has deceived her she resorts to screaming and swearing incoherently. Not so in this film. Rebecca Hall shows shock and horror, and she chokes on her words demanding that Affleck’s character leave. She tries to shout and there is some profanity, but she’s incapacitated by the horror of it all. I wish other films would even attempt to capture this. Fortunately, The Town doesn’t just settle for cheap hysteria.