"Pretty much everyone on the set was an ex-con of some sort," says
Discovering a new way to tell a familiar story wasn't the only challenge the 38-year-old actor and filmmaker faced.
In just his second time behind the camera on a feature film (Affleck directed 2007's critically acclaimed but little-seen "Gone Baby Gone," he needed to figure out how to direct himself, and not look like a scene-stealing prima donna in the process. He had to wrestle with the story's complex moral compass, which doesn't necessarily point in an upright direction at the film's conclusion. And he had to deliver enough of the genre's conventions — the shootout, the car chase, the betrayal — while leaving room for character development.
"I was afraid I couldn't do it — that it wouldn't work," Affleck says of his reservations before he agreed to make the movie. "I was afraid I would get to some hurdle and not know how to get over it."
As recognizable as "The Town's" story might be, it
is precisely the kind of movie that most major studios don't make these
days: a not altogether cheap (about
After rolling out at the Venice Film Festival and
the Toronto International Film Festival over the last two weeks, "The
Town" so far has attracted some of the fall season's best notices.
Affleck and financier/distributor
"This is not the kind of movie that makes a studio jump for joy," says the film's producer, "The Departed's"
Affleck wasn't the first choice to make "The Town" — the movie previously had been in development with "Fatal Attraction's"
King was among the handful who saw "Gone Baby Gone" (the film barely grossed
"I thought he told a really good story — and in a movie that could have been very slow, he kept it moving," King says. King knew that "The Town" had its own traps. Done poorly, it would be a disposable action movie, "the kind of B movie that they make six or seven times a year that you find in the video bin," the producer says.
Affleck didn't disagree about the potential
pitfalls, and he had some additional worries. He was concerned about
being typecast in only his second full-length directing assignment,
making another gritty crime drama set in and around
"I knew it had to deliver on some of the genre components — you have to have something that works in a trailer, or that someone who likes heist movies would feel there wasn't a bait and switch if they saw it," Affleck says.
So he took the novel and screenplay's core idea — the four hoods take a bank manager (Hall) hostage in one job, and honcho
"I felt I couldn't do anything that I didn't think felt real," Affleck says. "I could only direct it if I understood it on a gut level."
Over the course of four months, Affleck met with
actual crooks, often in prison, and law enforcement officials, and
based a scene in the film on a famous 1995 foiled armored car heist in
"You get as specific as you can," says Hamm. "That's how you avoid being generic."
Renner's character and some of his dialogue were shaped by Affleck's interviews, as was a scene where the heavily armed quartet comes across a lone police officer who decides to look the other way.
"I asked one guy, 'What was the strangest thing that ever happened to you?' " Affleck says of chatting up one felon. "And he told me that story just as it's in the movie."
Affleck also had concerns about whether he could direct himself. Asked by Renner whether he was up to it, Affleck said, "I don't know." Says Renner: "He was slightly terrified. And I loved that."
Affleck sought out other actors who had done the same — a list that included
"The majority said it was doable — and, granted, I was talking to some really talented guys — but here are some of the dangers," Affleck says. "They said, 'Don't shortchange yourself. There's a temptation to do that when you've been working all day and asking a lot of everyone. Be sure to get your own performance. Be self-confident of yourself enough so you can be the heel who does a Take 7 of yourself.' "
Affleck, King and the cast debated how the film should end, and what kind of message they would be sending if crime did indeed pay.
"It was a really difficult question, and one I don't think I ever answered wholly to myself," Affleck says. "For a while, I wanted a darker ending. But I couldn't figure out how to make it good."
Renner believes that whatever audiences think about the film's principles, they will grant it some leeway because of how they relate to its protagonists.
"If you don't care about the characters," Renner says, "then it's just a really interesting car chase."
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