There’s darkness on the edge of this “Town”
It is time to reconsider Ben Affleck. With “The Town,” the new heist thriller he directs, stars in and helped write, Affleck avoids any sophomore jinx coming off his directorial debut in 2007’s exceptional “Gone Baby Gone.” While not perfect, “The Town” more than makes up for Affleck’s career nadirs (“Daredevil,” and “Gigli”) and proves he might be a real force behind the camera.
Crackling with energy from start to finish, “The Town” also provides convincing characters, an edgy, insider’s view of Affleck’s suburban Boston roots, and even a love interest angle that doesn’t distract from the story’s intensity.
Affleck stars as Doug Macray, leader of a band of bank and armored car robbers living in Charlestown, where tough neighborhoods have spawned generations of hardscrabble Irish-American crooks. After Doug gets to know Claire (a splendidly vulnerable Rebecca Hall), a hostage from one of his heists who doesn’t know his true identity, Doug looks for an exit strategy from a criminal lifestyle that also landed his father (a gripping Chris Cooper) in jail for life. But it’s not easy, especially with pressure to continue coming from lifelong pal and explosive partner in crime Jem (an effectively intense Jeremy Renner) and the tight grip imposed by a local gangster (Pete Postlethwaite). On his heels is a zealous F.B.I. agent (a compelling Jon Ham from “Mad Men”).
There are some terrific shootouts, snugly filmed car chases, and one particular heist at Fenway Park that is, well, a home run of skillful set-up and execution.
Affleck’s character is that rare tough guy criminal for whom the script works hard (perhaps too hard) to engender sympathy. So if the final conclusion seems a bit easy to predict, “The Town” at least offers a different type of protagonist than this genre normally provides. (See all of Martin Scorcese’s films.) And Affleck himself looks comfortable in the role and holds his own against his well chosen cast.
For a gritty film that relies on credibility, “The Town” seems preposterous in spots, including drawn-out, heavily-costumed-with-weapons-blazing (in broad daylight no less) stick-ups, outsized to superhero film proportions (a la “The Dark Knight”). Showing a little more of the planning stages of these elaborate heists would have helped too. According to the film, as many as 300 bank jobs of this type are committed annually (that’s more than one every business day!) in and around Boston. One would think a few more security guards could be cost justified.
These issues aside, “The Town” is a hard-edged thriller with a soft underbelly and in a lackluster year for films of this level of drama it stands out as one of the year’s best while continuing to solidify Ben Affleck’s talents in front of, and behind the camera.
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use.