The Number One Movie in America: The Town
By Sean Collier
January 31, 2021
The jury is very much still out on the box-office potential of Ben Affleck — as a director.
The busy actor has made time in his schedule to helm four films to date. His 2007 directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” was a critical darling and an Oscar nominee (for Amy Ryan’s excellent performance). By box-office standards, however, it barely made waves, earning a humble $20.2 million. (On this site, that cume qualified it for the “Overlooked Film” category in the Calvin Awards; it finished sixth.)
“The Town” — our subject today — was released three years later, and drew in a much more respectable $92.1 million. Two years afterwards, Affleck would direct and star in the Best Picture winner “Argo,” which gradually became his most successful directorial effort to date, pulling in more than $136 million.
He followed this notable success by unleashing an utter bomb.
2016’s “Live By Night” flopped hard, grossing about $10.3 million during an utterly unnoticed box-office run. (This may have something to do with the film’s unfortunate poster, which depicts a bored-looking Affleck, sitting in a low chair and wearing an unpleasant suit.) While a single flop is not a trend, even from the most bankable of directors, “Live By Night” seems to have proven that “directed by Ben Affleck” is not an imprimatur that guarantees a profit.
If you watch “The Town,” though, you’ll find a producer and demand they shovel money at Ben Affleck.
If anything, a $92.1 million take seems low for “The Town.” It’s the kind of high-intrigue, lean thriller that provokes great word-of-mouth (and endless cable-TV airings). The tale of Boston bank robbers forced into a perilous position when the ringleader — naturally, played by Affleck himself — falls for a former hostage sweeps so naturally toward a conclusion that its slightly drawn-out running time (and genre trappings) are barely noticeable.
It’s also remarkable considering how often these stories are bungled — particularly during the period from the late-aughts to the mid-teens, when “Boston” was practically its own genre. Tales of career criminals living on the edge of disaster and freedom are a dime a dozen, and this era in particular resulted in a great many that got boring by the middle of the second act.
“The Town,” however, never falls into tedium, largely because it’s fun. The performances are lively and the set pieces — particularly the masks, which are a perfect touch — are memorable. The central story may be absurd (both robber and hostage are too smart for this relationship), but it also raises the stakes in precisely the way drama is supposed to.
It’s not a perfect film by any means; subplots involving Jon Hamm, as a somber FBI agent, and Blake Lively, as a bitter ex-girlfriend, wobble, and the ending is a bit rote. (It was, apparently, a concession to grumpy test audiences.) But “The Town” has verve in a way that many pseudo-gritty crime dramas don’t.
Perhaps Affleck’s next directorial effort — not “The Batman,” that’s off — will get him back to his moneymaking ways.
It’ll certainly make more than “Live By Night.” Seriously, look at the poster. What’s that all about?
“The Town” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1977. Please listen and subscribe!
Next time: Caroline laughs and it's raining all day, she loves to be one of the girls. She lives in the place in the side of our lives where nothing is ever put straight.