Extra TIFF coverage: Ben Affleck’s The Town

Chaos. That’s how I would describe the red-carpet world premiere of The Town, Ben Affleck’s second directorial venture, at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 11. Don’t get me wrong—the film was great. (More on that in a second.) But, boy! did I ever witness a completely new side of human behavior that day! People shoving, yelling, crying, screaming, extending their cameras to catch a snapshot of their favourite star, telling you to “watch it” because your arm is in their wife’s way (yes, I actually got that one). Oh TIFF, how I love thee.

Screening at the festival’s largest venue, the elegant Roy Thompson Hall, The Town was considered one of the festival’s most anticipated films right from the start. Just take one look at the stellar cast, and you’ll see why. For those of you out of the loop, the film stars Ben Affleck (director of Gone Baby Gone), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Blake Lively (Gossip Girl), and Rebecca Hall (The Prestige).

Debuting in theatres this past Friday, The Town is set in the neighborhoods of Boston and tells the story of a band of bank robbers who go around stealing millions of dollars, all the while dressed up in eerie Halloween-style costumes (evil nuns, anyone?). All pretty generic so far, right? Well, things start to shake up when Doug MacRay (Affleck), the lead planner of the bank robberies, falls in love with one of his hostages (Hall). Although she is let go and is unaware of the identities of her abductors, she is left traumatized by her near-death experience. But she doesn’t realize she’s being pursued by Doug, who’s becoming attracted to her. The two develop a relationship, which doesn’t sit too well with either James (Renner), Doug’s hot-headed best friend and partner-in-crime, or his ex-girlfriend Krista (Lively). Doug wants to leave the world of crime behind and settle down with his love, but how can he when his best friend, ex-girlfriend, the FBI (led by Hamm’s character), and the crime lords of Boston are standing in his way?

It may sound a bit procedural and straightforward (and to be honest, it mostly is), but there’s something to be admired  in Affleck’s skilled direction and character development. As with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has a gift for conveying the grittiness and harshness of reality in his depiction of crime, justice, and law enforcement. For example, the chase scenes in this film will keep you on the edge of your seat, not only because the camerawork and background music are amazing, but as an audience member you feel like there are real consequences and outcomes involved for the characters in the film. Affleck’s characters are so deep and complex that they seem to have emerged straight out of real life (and in fact, the film is based on a true story). Affleck’s performance as Doug is particularly noteworthy because he successfully conveys the character’s pain and suffering, even if you only watch his eyes and body language.

The Town is the definition of a well-made film; everything from the cinematography to the acting is top-notch. Again, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but watch it for the tremendous artistic skill on display. Trust me on this one: it’s worth it.

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