Town, The: Interview with Ben Affleck, Director, Star, co-Writer

Ben Affleck’s The Town, which he directed and stars in, will be released by Warner September 17.

Charlestown, Massachusetts: only one square mile in size but with a legacy larger than its geography. Its towering landmark, the Bunker Hill Monument, commemorates the famous Revolutionary War battle, but the town’s more recent wars have been between cops and robbers.

It is against that backdrop that the motion picture “The Town” is set. Ben Affleck directed and co-wrote the film, in addition to starring in the central role of Doug MacRay.

For Afflect, “It was interesting because, on the one hand, you have this outer shell of a heist movie, but, at its heart, the story is about a guy who’s dealing with being stuck in a place he doesn’t want to be and wants to change his life, which was much more compelling to me. It’s about how rooted you are in how you grew up and also about children paying for the sins of their parents. I think that’s something many people can identify with, even those of us who can’t necessarily relate to the criminal aspect.”

“The Town” is based on the novel Prince of Thieves, written by Chuck Hogan. Hailing from Massachusetts, Hogan situated the crime drama in Charlestown for a reason: the Boston neighborhood has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other single square mile in the world. The seeds of that distinction were more than likely planted when Charlestown was the site of a maximum security prison, leading to a self-perpetuating criminal enclave. Affleck offers, “It served as a kind of revolving door. People would go to prison and their families would move there, and, as they got out and then went back in, a community developed around it. It was hypothesized in the book–and we included it in the film–that robbing banks became a trade that was passed down from fathers to sons.”

Jeremy Renner, who plays the role of Doug’s accomplice and best friend, Jem, adds, “In that very small, tight-knit community, they developed a strict code of silence. Everybody knew everything, but nobody talked, which made it easier to be successful in that line of work.”

Published in 2004, Prince of Thieves won the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers and caught the attention of producer Graham King. “The whole flavor of the book, with its criminals and cops, was right up my alley,” says King. “But I also loved the undercurrents of the story–the friendship of these guys hanging out and working together, regardless of their occupation. Then Doug falls for this woman they had taken hostage and now has hard decisions to make that will impact all of them. It’s an interesting mix.”

Rebecca Hall, who portrays Claire, the woman for whom Doug falls, notes, “It’s a proper thriller in the sense that it is very gripping and has all the action you want. And it also has a romantic angle that contains a few surprises. It’s just really good storytelling.”

Producer Basil Iwanyk agrees. “The story has so many layers. It has the relationship between these lifelong friends from Charlestown, who are inherently doing the wrong thing, yet you care about them. The men have a swagger and an energy that I was drawn to, but there is also an unlikely romance that immediately pulled me in.”

Screenwriter Peter Craig says that in adapting Hogan’s novel the interwoven relationships of “The Town” took precedence for him. “Every single relationship is complex. There is a love story at its core, but Doug also has connections to Jem, to his father, to Jem’s sister, and to the rest of his crew, that are all just as integral to the story. The goal in adapting the book was to maintain the history and the depth of those relationships.”

King sent Affleck an early draft of the script after seeing his directorial debut on “Gone Baby Gone.” “Ben did great work on ‘Gone Baby Gone,’ so we were happy that he gravitated to the material straight away,” King states. “Added to that, he’s from Boston and knows it like the back of his hand.”

Nevertheless, Affleck and fellow screenwriter Aaron Stockard soon discovered that, despite its proximity to their hometown, Charlestown was a world away. “Ben and I both grew up in Cambridge, which is a stone’s throw from Charlestown, but there was a lot about it that we didn’t really know,” says Stockard, who had also collaborated with Affleck on the screenplay for “Gone Baby Gone.” “We knew its reputation, but we assumed that most of it was overblown. It turned out that what we thought were mythical notions about Charlestown were actually true, which made the story even more appealing to us.”

“We did a ton of research,” Affleck recalls. “We went to prisons and talked to former bank robbers and also met with guys at the FBI who were counterpoints to Agent Frawley, the character played by Jon Hamm. We started incorporating what we learned into the architecture of the story to bring in as much detail and verisimilitude as we could.”

“On both sides of the camera, Ben’s level of preparation was incredible. He thought about every moment in this movie,” Iwanyk says. “He also had the wisdom to surround himself with an amazing cast and crew, and fostered such a creative atmosphere on the set. He was always open to ideas from anyone.”

Adding to the authenticity sought by the filmmakers, “The Town” was filmed almost entirely on location in and around Boston, including, of course, Charlestown, as well as the North End, Cambridge, and venerable Fenway Park. The oldest Major League Baseball stadium still in use, Fenway was the site of the movie’s climactic action sequence. Several locals were also cast in featured roles or as extras, including both ex-cops and ex-cons.