NOIRVEMBER 027 ~ The Town
This tale of Boston robberies and broken men is the sort of narrative you know is noir because you feel it in the creak of your bones. You and I know the score but everyone else could be forgiven for thinking this was just another Hollywood flick featuring some crime. I mean, it stars [and is directed by] Ben Affleck, a guy who seemed for a long time to be living out his own noir tale IRL. I don’t know where SURVIVING CHRISTMAS fits into a noir flick visually but we all know it’s one of the lower rungs in the spiral.
Yet THE TOWN sparked redemption for Affleck while only bringing a metal curtain down on his character and anyone he touches around him. Because Affleck’s character of Doug MacRay is god’s lonely man, he’s just very good looking so we don’t believe it straight up.
He spends his nights sculpting his body – which we see in one scene that has no narrative relevance except to show us Affleck’s superb physique, though it also holds reason, because you have to wonder why would he bother? He’s an isolated man, he robs banks, and while he’s externally doing great, his inside is hollow. He is working towards nothing until one aspect of a score goes sideways.
Affleck and his crew are successful in their heist but they take a hostage, bank manager Claire Keesey. They ensure their safety, and her blindness to them, and they release her onto the sand and tell her to keep walking until she hits water and then she can stop and look. It’s a terrifying moment – or series of moments – for Claire and it’s a perfect way for her to meet Affleck, even though she doesn’t know that’s what she’s doing at the time. She is reduced to raw emotion, she is connected to the world in a visceral contact way, and she is assuming she is a second away from death the entire time. With him, this is all true and will be forevermore.
Unbeknownst to the rest of the crew, Affleck begins a relationship with Claire after the heist and we instantly see the conflict this brings and knowing how volatile his best friend, Jem Coughlin played by Jeremy Renner, is then there’s no escaping the fact we are walking the plank blindfolded and waiting to fall much as Claire was on the beach that day her life changed.
Watching the love blossom in this bleak environment is hard because you want it to give you hope but the signals are all there to point to the rather more honest truth of where this is all heading. Through a tapestry of events involving the FBI, the crumbling heist crew solidarity, and the knowledge that the one main truth can shatter a relationship, none of this plays out well.
And it’s all Affleck’s fault. Because he chose crime over ice hockey as a youth. Because he sticks by his toxic friend when he should have cut him loose many years before. Because he is so intrigued by this woman that he thinks he can make the one thing work that’s the one worst choice in the world he could make after having used her as a hostage. Because he was nice to the local girl he used to make time with who had a kid and he wanted to help her out when he had no reason to do so at all.
Because he starts the flick alone, and he needs to end the flick alone. Because he’s made all his important decisions alone and he is god’s lonely man. And we get a crime flick that’s slick and violent and dark and is most certainly one of the modern noir masterpieces.
And this works as a slick double bill with Affleck’s later GONE GIRL, directed by David Fincher. Wherein he plays a husband investigated for the murder of his wife. It’s actually not the sort of story I’d want to spoil but I will applaud it for being a surprise in tone because the flick looks like yet another Hollywood thriller and instead it is very much a throwback to the lurid paperback days of old where shit got real and everyone sank under the waves by the final page.
It would appear Ben Affleck is another one of today’s noir stars, a different version from Joseph Gordon-Levitt but still as handy, and mostly because though Affleck’s size should make him an imposition, he rarely uses it in these flicks, and the realest noir is about decision anyway. It is Affleck’s handsomeness that works against him, that disarm people in the worst ways, and that lead his path between others and locations until he’s too far gone.
And if you are wondering, yes, this makes me excited to see him tackle an aging Batman on screen because we might just get the tone and ending we deserve.