With his new film The Town, Ben Affleck disproves F Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-quoted declaration: “There are no second acts in American lives.”

Five years ago his Hollywood career nose-dived following a series of critical and commercial flops including Jersey Girl and Gigli, in which he co-starred with then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez. Fast forward to next year’s Oscars and we may see Affleck back in contention for the first time since his best original screenplay gong for Good Will Hunting back in 1997.

This follow up to Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, and treads familiar ground. Set in the Boston neighbourhood of Charlestown, supposedly the bank robbery capital of America, The Town will inevitably draw comparisons to Scorsese’s brilliant The Departed and Michael Mann’s equally praised Heat. This film doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the works of these two heavyweight directors, but it proves a worthy addition to the crime thriller sub-genre.

The Town features a stellar cast including Affleck as head robber Doug MacRay, who endangers his gang when he starts a relationship with a hostage and Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm, who convinces as FBI agent Adam Frawley despite some textbook bad-cop dialogue. Jeremy Remmer, from The Hurt Locker, provides a chilling counterpoint to Affleck’s nice guy robber as his volatile friend, Jem, and Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively plays against type as his junky ball and chain.

The action flows thick and fast but never threatens to overwhelm the characters and themes of the film. The robberies are filmed with a frenetic energy and there is a sense of frantic desperation in the protagonists as their lives seem to be spiralling towards a brutally bloody end. Through these blue-collar bank robbers, Affleck explores themes of class and children paying for the sins of their parents. A scene in which MacRay visits his father (played by Chris Cooper) in prison points to the bleak future these tough guys in tracksuits face.

With this strong performance in front of and behind the camera, Affleck confirms himself as a filmmaker to be respected. It’s a long way from his ‘Bennifer’ days and a big step towards establishing his name among the directors whose work this great new film has emulated.

The details: The Town is playing in cinemas nationally.

Peter Fray

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