Ben Affleck brings Boston to Venice with reality-driven heist film starring himself

By Sherri Jennings, AP
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ben Affleck brings Boston to Venice at film fest

VENICE, Italy — Ben Affleck brought Boston to Venice on Wednesday, presenting a reality-driven heist film “The Town” that is destined to draw comparisons to his other films also set in his Massachusetts hometown.

Affleck also stars in the film, which is having its world premiere out of competition at the Venice Film Festival on the lagoon city’s Lido.

Boston was also the setting for Affleck’s Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting,” which he co-wrote and starred in, and “Gone Baby Gone,” also written and directed by Affleck and starring his younger brother Casey.

“I didn’t want to get pigeonholed as the Boston director guy,” Affleck told reporters at a packed news conference.

Still, the 38-year-old actor/director acknowledged that his deep understanding of the city helped him create the style he aspired to and which persuaded him to forge ahead with his latest project.

The plot involves a gang of bank robbers from the Boston neighborhood of Charleston, notorious for producing more bank and armored car robbers than anywhere else in the United States.

“The social realism aspect of it was really important to me,” he said. “I don’t think you can like a movie like this or believe a movie like this unless you have a strong sense of place and really believe that the characters are from there and what you see is really happening.”

Affleck cited Warner’s Bros. classic gangster films as well as the more recent Italian film “Gomorrah,” directed by Matteo Garrone about the Neapolitan Camorra crime gang, as inspiring his work on “The Town.”

Gomorrah “was a big influence on me in that sense you felt that it was real. I had never been there before but you felt like he really got it right,” he said.

Affleck said the use of security camera footage was another way to give audiences a real experience.

“I wanted to show (the robberies) as we see them in real life,” he said. “(We) are accustomed to seeing robberies and violence in 15 frames-per-second, black-and-white material we see on YouTube or the nightly news of someone breaking in, with no sound, and breaking some glass and even maybe shooting.”

The film opens with a terrifying heist by masked robbers that finishes with the kidnapping of the bank’s director, Claire, played by Rebecca Hall. Before freeing her, the gang took her driver’s license, leaving her with fears they might come back for her.

Two of the robbers, loose cannon Jem (Jeremy Renner) and the steadier Doug MacRay (Affleck) are concerned she might have evidence to turn over to the FBI.

In order to find out, Doug stages a casual encounter at a laundry where he engages Claire in conversation and invites her on a date.

Eventually Claire confides that she recognized one of the robber’s tattoos but hadn’t told the FBI special agent (Jon Hamm) trailing the gang. At this point, Doug is in an increasingly volatile situation, up against his fellow robbers, particularly Jem and the mafia boss threats of Fergie, played by Oscar winner Pete Postlethwaite.

So far, the film is a high point for the Venice film festival, which has had less star power this year than in previous events.

Renner was on the Lido last year with director Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker” but shrugged off comparisons between the full-throttle characters he played in each film.

“Nothing from ‘Hurt Locker’ rolls into this,” Renner told reporters.

Hall’s career bolted upward with her starring role in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona.”

The festival’s top Golden Lion award will be handed out at its closing ceremony on Saturday.

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