I’m putting THE TOWN down as one of the ten good-to-great movies that Ben Affleck needs to make before I’ll forgive him for SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002). Marking his second effort as a director (the first being GONE BABY GONE (2007)), Affleck now brings us a gritty crime drama set in blue-collar Charlestown, Mass.
Affleck also takes a leading role in this film as Doug MacRay, the brains behind a proficient and prolific gang of bank robbers doing the bidding of the local Irish mob boss, Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite). Backing him up on these jobs is James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner stealing every scene he’s in) and two additional thugs who hardly matter except to fill out the gang (Slaine and Owen Burke).
Affleck’s Doug is matched to Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager who is taken hostage in the film’s opening bank robbery thrill ride, and then released unharmed. He subsequently seeks her out to make sure she doesn’t know anything that can identify them, and falls for her while never revealing that his gang traumatized her. What follows is the story of Doug struggling to reconcile the love of his life with his criminal career.
There’s not a lot here that we haven’t seen before. Sweet, doe-eyed Claire, who loves to garden and work with underprivileged children, represents the life that Doug wants but can’t have because of the gravitational forces of his upbringing. Doug is the sensitive yet street-tough hoodlum who wants and deserves a different life. Predictably, Doug decides to do that ‘one last job’ and then escape with Claire.
Of course, it’s never that simple. The FBI, led by agents Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) and Dino Ciampa (Titus Welliver), are closing in on the gang, quickly and ruthlessly. It doesn’t help that his closest friend and partner-in-crime, Jem, is a career criminal who is addicted to robbery and violence. Jem knows he can never leave Charlestown, and strongly believes that Doug should follow suit.
What saves THE TOWN from the mixed morass of crime drama tropes is the acting and writing. Ranging from the cameos (including Postlethwaite and Chris Cooper playing Doug’s jail-bound father) to the major roles, there isn’t a single bad performance in this film.
Affleck, whose acting ability varies wildly, settles into this role with a natural grace. Perhaps it helps that he wrote the script (along with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard), which was adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel, PRINCE OF THIEVES (2004). Renner’s performance is spot-on and riveting every moment that he’s on screen. That said, now that he’s played an intense sociopath in both this film and THE HURT LOCKER (2008), he may want to look at other kinds of characters in future projects. Rebecca Hall’s Claire, while performed well, comes off a little flat. This isn’t her fault so much as the fact that she’s been given the role of damsel-in-distress within a male-dominated crime movie.
It’s also worth noting that Boston, and specifically Charlestown, could be credited as another leading actor in this film. Affleck (who is from Cambridge, Mass.) did a great job of capturing Boston’s look and feel. He also used the city’s winding, narrow streets to great advantage during some exciting chase and action scenes. For Boston natives, you can breathe a sigh of relief regarding the often-overdone local accents. In THE TOWN, they get the accents right.
While THE TOWN has several suspenseful action sequences, it would be wrong to categorize it solely as an action film, or even a thriller. It’s a rare kind of film (in the same vein as THE DEPARTED (2006) and HEAT (1995)), in that it certainly is a genre flick, but it’s written for adults who like some substance with their flash. THE TOWN also goes another step toward proving that GONE BABY GONE was not a fluke. When it comes to directing, Affleck has some chops.
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard|
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner
Run Time: 2hr 3min
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