So with that I was desperately keen to see his latest turn behind the camera, The Town, a film which he co-wrote, directed and starred in as the leading man no less.
Of course he'd only directed one other feature film and he didn't lead, so with him acting there was still a thought that this might not turn it well.
The crew are successful because of the very careful planning of all aspects of the raid, right down to the detail of ensuring all bullets are scrubbed for DNA, and their raids are getting bigger and bigger.
As the crew increase their efforts, so do the FBI, and they are close on their trails. They even know who they are, but lack the evidence to convict them; they just need to catch them in the act.
On the latest raid the silent alarm is triggered and the slightly unhinged and dangerous member of the crew, James Coughlin played by Jeremy Renner, decides to take a hostage, the female bank manager Claire Keesey played by Rebecca Hall, and it's only until they are well clear that they let her go.
However with the increased police activity they begin to get concerned that she might know something of importance to the FBI, and under pressure she might reveal something to identify them. James decides to pay the woman a visit and see how much she knows.
Doug fears that he'll hurt her or maybe even kill her so he decides to tail her himself. He meets her, buys her a drink, talks, and begins to get drawn to the woman. Despite her being a witness, he keeps on seeing her, keeping his real life a secret from her.
Through their relationship he realises that this is the end for him and he wants out to try and start a life with her, away from Boston and the violence and crime. However he's being forced into one last unplanned job, and all the time the FBI are closing in.
Let's not waste any time beating around the bush here, Ben Affleck has delivered a superb film, I'm not sure how involved he was in the writing, and surely all the writers deserve a huge amount of credit for The Town, but the direction and his performance are fantastic, and without a doubt his direction deserves a huge amount of praise.
The film opens with a frightening fact about the amount of robberies that occur in this small part of Boston, and it sets the tone perfectly for the film, a rather ominous fact, letting us know up front that these guys are serious, in control, and not the film robbers that we usually see on screen.
The first heist is almost immediately upon us and starts off well with Affleck's character talking the crew through a few aspects of the hit just before they leave the van outside the bank. As he mentions an aspect of the heist the camera shows us the moment in the real world. When they leave the van the hit moves quickly and efficiently, there's little time spent on planning in the film and that's one of the strengths of the film.
Typically we'll see the heist film concentrate on the planning stage to start building the tension and suspense, and then we'll see the heist carried out and undoubtedly the events will take a turn to the unexpected and the tension will rise along with our heart rates.
What struck me about the style of this film is that we aren't taken into the pre-planning, and when we are it's only a few brief moments and don't distract from the tension and actual robbery. We're told that the team are always well planned, and we see this from both sides, the police and the robbers, and we see just how well planned they are during the heist. Cleverly, as we watch the heist play out, we see their meticulously planning as it happens rather than before in the planning stages.
Looking back I think it's a great move by the film and does set it apart from others in the same genre. It also manages to keep us concentrated in the moment, with the characters carrying out their plans rather than taking us out to watch them talk about what's going to happen, sequences that can so often distract and relax the audience when you really want them getting drawn into the film and their tensions rising.
All this also makes for a great sense of realism, we're not only kept in the moment and the pace of the film kept going, but the focus is kept on the core of the film, and that's an emotional one featuring the main characters, not so much an action one.
That's an interesting point to note, the action doesn't overstep into the realm of stylised action and violence, nor does it film them in a standard Hollywood action way, something that I absolutely loathe - fast cuts, close-ups and multiple edits. On all counts the film hits just the right tone and the right beats. Affleck has done superbly well.
There are actually only three heists in the film, and each of them carries a different feel. The second features a superb car chase that demonstrates the non-Hollywood action. To me the car chase sequence felt as though it was right out of Ronin, an excellent film that portrays some highly realistic car chases that have the camera pulled back, longer cuts to show the action happening, and real speed.
With The Town Affleck has portrayed just that in the chase sequence between the robber's car and the police car. The manoeuvres feel real, the camera is pulled back, there aren't too many fast cuts, and to add to it all the tension is palatable. Built from the robbery itself all through the chase the tension is ramped up time and time again, and come the final moment I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief.
In the final heist of the film there's a shoot out that some compare to Heat, except however much I love that film and those scenes, The Town once again pushes for less style and more realism, I might be in danger of over stating this but that's how the film feels and it's especially noticeable through these three big sequences which are so tightly directed.
It's not just the action sequences that show off the great direction from Affleck, it's throughout the film and although I felt that there were perhaps a few too many flyby shots of the streets of Charlestown, that was the only time I felt that the film was struggling ever so slightly, and that even stood true for the longer running time.
During the parts of the film that rely on the characters and the development of the relationships, Affleck doesn't seem at all scared to let the actors have time with the camera, and there are a good number of scenes where we really get the characters through the actors performances rather than their words.
I think I've said enough about the direction, let's keep going with the acting, another aspect of the film that Ben Affleck is involved in and rather deeply too since he's one of the leading characters.
He excels in the acting department too, and manages to convey a powerful but conflicted character who isn't as simply set out as the more psychopathic James played really well by Jeremy Renner. Affleck's character has a much more moralistic emotional base and is conflicted from the very beginning, first with trying to control his long time friend, and later with his relationship with Claire, whom Hall plays superbly.
She gives an emotionally strong and believable performance that feels as authentic as the film, and for me the three standout performances in the film come from Affleck and the two female actresses, Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively.
I suspect if Affleck's character wasn't so well written and directed, and he dropped his performance just a little bit, that I'd be suggesting both Hall and Lively out acted him. It is close, but I still think Affleck walks away as the star of the film.
The story is as strongly written as it is directed and acted, and while some of the conflicting relationships may at times seem familiar you don't get caught up with that and you do move on with the story. What it does do is bring in an interesting twist with the relationship between robber and victim, something that grows to become the core of the story.
Despite there being a few Hollywood moments to The Town, the story managed to deliver them without me groaning at them or feeling pushed away from the story, something that happens with me all too often with so many standard Hollywood films these days. However it wasn't until after the film and I reflected on it that I realised they were there, and yet they felt right for the story.
It also doesn't over dramatise the events. While the direction stays away from over stylising the action, the writing doesn't push the story too far and keeps it well confined to the reality it has created in Charlestown, Boston.
The Town turned out to be an excellent film, a very strong thriller, brimming with tension, and an excellent addition to the heist film genre. What's particularly great about the film is the way that it focuses on the characters and the emotional core of the story with the action being second, however it doesn't take second place and the heist sequences are powerful and just as tense, and still manage to push forward the story.
Ben Affleck is proving he's a fantastic director bringing to life an authentic feeling character thriller in The Town, and despite setting himself up for a fall by directing himself in the lead, he not only saves it but he blows expectations away. I can't imagine directing a film is the easiest of things especially directing yourself in the lead, and Affleck comes away looking like a seasoned professional with this his fifteenth film, and yet this is his first co-writing, acting and directing.
With an emotionally strong and well written character thriller, authentic feeling direction, powerful performances from all the leading actors, and Affleck, Hall and Lively providing the best, The Town turns out to be an excellent film that really does feel like it will stand toe to toe with the heist thrillers that mark the genre.
It's an excellent film that redefines Affleck and his career, and should definitely be seen regardless of what you might think of the man.