Who in their right mind would have ever imagined that Ben Affleck would someday have a career comeback and not just as an actor, but as a director? Remember all those rumors about how Affleck and Matt Damon didn’t really write GOOD WILL HUNTING and that the script was really written by William Goldman? I, along with most people, believed those rumors because, after all, how can someone like Ben Affleck be capable of writing a good story when he obviously lacked enough creative and career judgment to turn down such horrible shit like FORCES OF NATURE, BOUNCE, PEARL HARBOR, DAREDEVIL, GIGLI, and SURVIVING CHRISTMAS? I wrote Affleck off a long time ago and I figured the only place I would end up seeing him would be in direct-to-DVD movies or as a secondary character in big films starring other people. Seeing THE TOWN last night has closed a dismal chapter in Ben Affleck’s career and, like Clint Eastwood, Affleck’s newly resurgent career has established him as one of Hollywood’s most formidable directors. In a year that has seen Hollywood churn out some of its worst dreck ever, THE TOWN easily ranks as one of this year’s very best films.

THE TOWN has a straightforward and simple story. Its about a couple of bank robbers who live in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, which according to the film is notorious for producing bank robbers. The mastermind behind the robbers in this film is played by Ben Affleck. He and his crew, which includes Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER), work for and get their assignments from an Irish florist played by Pete Postlethwaite (IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER). The movie opens with a bank heist where one of the bank employees (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage and then released. Affleck and his buddies realize that the employee lives in Charlestown so Affleck decides to follow her and make sure she’s not going to somehow identify who the robbers are. Instead, Affleck ends up meeting her and he and the woman begin a romantic relationship. In the meantime, the FBI, led by Jon Hamm (MAD MEN), begins to investigate the robbery and before long they figure out that Affleck and his crew were behind it.

Before I delve deeper into my review, let me just say that Jeremy Renner is without any doubt and without any room for debate the best new actor in Hollywood today. With just THE HURT LOCKER and THE TOWN to his name, Renner has positioned himself at the top of the thespian food chain. Even though he gets a lot of screen time, you can’t get enough of seeing Renner in this movie. He burns the screen with his intensity, which I have not seen since Joe Pesci’s award-winning performance in GOODFELLAS. You immediately know from the start that the outcome of Renner’s fate will not be good. He’s a fuse waiting to be lit; an outlaw from another, more violent period of time. No matter how many successful robberies he commits, no matter how much money he makes from them, Renner will never be satisfied. In that sense, his character is similar to the one he played in THE HURT LOCKER. Both characters live their lives in a reckless, daredevil fashion and they feed off the adrenaline that comes from putting their lives at risk. Based on what I have seen so far this year, Renner’s performance is guaranteed to be recognized during the awards season.

The biggest criticism I have read about THE TOWN is that the story does not offer anything we have not seen before. The movie this will probably be most compared to is Michael Mann’s classic HEAT. First, by making a movie about bank robbers, I don’t think Affleck intended to present his audience with something completely original because we all know this is a subject that has been done many times. Second, to measure a movie’s success by how unique it is from other movies completely shortchanges the virtues of that film. THE TOWN is a very well executed crime drama that presents compelling characters that instantly draw you into their lives and a story that builds toward an explosive climax. What more could you want? Affleck isn’t trying to change the cinematic landscape with this movie; its not AVATAR or INCEPTION in that sense. He simply wanted to tell a story and he does.

You can certainly have a great story where the good guys are clearly differentiated from the bad guys. Pretty much all superhero, fantasy, and sci-fi movies follow this classic good guy/bad guy formula and many wonderful stories are told from them. However, the more interesting stories for me are those that blur the lines of morality. Its those where the protagonists do not always do the ‘right’ thing and where the antagonists are not necessarily bad intentioned or harbor ill will towards others. It is why I am always drawn to crime stories like THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS, SCARFACE, etc. and it is why I immediately became drawn to THE TOWN. You know Ben Affleck is not a good guy and he deserves to be thrown behind bars for the crimes he has committed. Jeremy Renner is even more deserving of punishment for the people he has killed and injured. Despite this, however, you continue to root for them and to wish for their escape and even success in robbing banks. Why? Because you learn why they are the way they are and you feel sorry for them. You connect with their camaraderie and it reminds you of the camaraderie of your own friendships and guys you know who are just like them. On the other end of the spectrum, you know the FBI should find these guys and stop them so that they don’t hurt any more people. Instead, however, you want it to fail. Even though he fights for justice, you see the arrogance in Jon Hamm’s personality and his feeling of superiority over everyone else simply because he holds the badge. For that, you don’t want him to succeed.

Speaking of Jon Hamm, I have never seen MAD MEN, but after seeing him in THE TOWN I have turned into a convert. His FBI character in this film is a complete asshole. Slimy, manipulative, and arrogant, Hamm is especially threatening because he’s not beyond breaking the law to get his man. Hamm eats up the scenery and I kept wondering why the hell this actor was not discovered when he was younger.

THE TOWN is one of those films that will stick with you for days to come and won’t want to see anything for awhile just so you can savor the satisfaction of seeing something this good. I do have to warn you that the Boston accent is heavy at times and I had a lot of difficulty understanding what was being said (especially by Jeremy Renner). However, don’t let that scare you away from seeing the movie. The story is not complex and you’ll get what is going on.