The Town is believable and tender, driven mainly by Affleck’s performance and his chemistry with Rebecca Hall and of course, some talented directing. The quiet, telling close ups of Claire’s feet and hands show Dougie’s desire to feel tenderness. Emptiness and shame is evident in a shot of Affleck looking away from the camera after a sexual encounter with junkie ex Krista (a good performance from Blake Lively who unfortunately cannot look repulsive even as a junkie).
As Dougie MacRay, Affleck captures a painful longing for something better that the life he was given which means you cannot help but hope for him. The two leads appear to be acting in a different movie than the rest of the cast, in the sense that the two main characters exist in a different world when they are together. Dougie however carries his pain, even in these scenes. He knows the two worlds cannot exist together. Despite the Boston accent and the tattooed, almost hulking physique, Affleck seems vulnerable and childlike. The character of Dougie is complex, thoughtful and torn between what he fears he might be and what he hopes to become, Affleck plays this perfectly. The movie wraps up nicely, but not too nicely, it leaves it open to interpretation, again subtle but satisfying.
In Gone Girl, his most recent release, I am going to be one of the few who will say I was a little disappointed – not in the film itself which was frankly remarkable. It has been a long time since I have been shocked to such an extent or delighted in such devilry, but that had more to do with the direction and the performance of Rosamund Pike. That said, Affleck plays his part to a T and perhaps the fault here is not in his acting, but that the character of Nick Dunne has no subtlety, nor does he appear to have any hidden depths. He is shallow and a bit of a dick, and I have always known that Affleck can play a part like that effortlessly. I want to see him make an effort.
In terms of his up and coming projects and in particular Batman v Superman and the Justice League movies, had Ben Affleck been cast in the next stand alone Batman movie I would have been interested to see what he would bring to the role and still am to an extent. Batman has always been a character that I have enjoyed; Bruce Wayne is dark, deep, and world weary with a complexity and an endearing gentleness despite his strength. If Affleck taps into any of that and shows the subtle techniques evident in The Town, he may just have a third coming.
However, I always have reservations about these comic book ensemble films where numerous beloved comic book characters come together in the one film. Guys tend to love them and the Marvel Comic movies do very well but I tend to think very little about them one way or the other and cannot think of any that I particularly enjoyed or particularly disliked.
Take out the comic book element and in any film too many big names and too many lead parts is usually a formula for disaster. Too many things to focus on and you focus on very little, too much effort on being noticed and an actor is noticed for all the wrong reasons.
I find his choice to star in these films as his next project more surprising than the director’s decision to cast him but I may be alone in that. Again it seemed as if Affleck was on a creative journey headed somewhere interesting but has chosen instead to go for big bucks Hollywood movies. It will however mean the spotlight will be on him for the next few years, for good or for bad.
The one I will be keeping an eye out for is Live by Night where he will direct and play the lead role, Joe Coughlin. Another adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane set in Boston, this time in the Prohibition Era; Affleck is sticking to what he knows to an extent. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally rumoured to play the part of Coughlin which is perhaps a testament to the quality of the part and which could mean it is the Ben Affleck performance I have been looking for. Like Dougie MacRay in the Town, I have found myself hoping for Affleck and intrigued to see how his career unfolds.