Big Ben

Article excerpt

Byline: Caryn James

'The Town' proves that Affleck is one actor-director worth his hyphen.

Remember when Ben Affleck was an easy punchline, tagged with the mashup name Bennifer during his tacky, tabloid-friendly engagement to Jennifer Lopez, and considered the less-smart half of Matt and Ben? Mindy Kaling (from The Office) even co-wrote a hilarious 2003 off-off-Broadway play called Matt and Ben, in which the Oscar-winning script for Good Will Hunting wasn't written by Affleck and his pal Matt Damon; it literally fell from the sky.

Well, the joke's on us. Affleck's heist movie The Town is part of a career turnaround so amazing that he looks like the new Clint Eastwood. Seriously. Affleck directed, stars in, and co-wrote The Town, a suspenseful, fiercely paced movie about bank robbers that is also about love, brotherhood, and the desperate need to escape a crooked life. It proves that Gone Baby Gone, his accomplished directing debut, was no fluke. And there's no need to torture the Eastwood comparison to see he's on a similar path. We're not talking about some flawless, auteurist-god Eastwood (one word: Changeling), but the director who steadily turns out audience-pleasing movies with something weighty underneath (Unforgiven), who lives at the crossroads of entertainment and art. Who else has that career? Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, and Tim Robbins are among the A-list actors who have competently stepped behind the camera, but in their generation only Affleck and George Clooney have shown genuine directors' visions.

The Town may feel breezy and escapist, but it displays Affleck's signature style: deep, unobtrusive realism. Like Gone Baby Gone, it is set in a working-class neighborhood near Boston, where robbing banks runs in families. …