Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm,
Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
RunTime: 2 hrs 5mins
Rating: M18 (Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: http://thetownmovie.warnerbros.com/
Opening Day: 21 October 2010
MacRay (Ben Affleck) is an unrepentant criminal, the de facto
leader of a group of ruthless bank robbers who pride themselves
in stealing what they want and getting out clean. With no
real attachments, Doug never has to fear losing anyone close
to him. But that all changed on the gang's latest job, when
they briefly took a hostage-bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca
Hall). Though they let her
go unharmed, Claire is nervously aware that the robbers know
her name...and where she lives. But she lets her guard down
when she meets an unassuming and rather charming man named
Doug...not realizing that he is the same man who only days
earlier had terrorized her. The instant attraction between
them gradually turns into a passionate romance that threatens
to take them both down a dangerous, and potentially deadly
Ben Affleck returns to his native Boston for his sophomore directorial effort, “The Town”, a tense and thrilling heist movie that, as many reviewers have already pointed out, establishes Affleck as a director to be reckoned with. Whereas his previous “Gone Baby Gone” was a character drama smaller in scope and dramatic intensity, Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince of Thieves” on which this movie is based offers potential for both intense action and gripping drama- and Affleck delivers on both counts.
The film’s opening title card informs of the location of the story- Charlestown- that is very much a character in the movie in its own right. Here we are told, is a neighbourhood that has produced more bank robbers than any other, a bank robbery capitol of the United States, and a place where criminal livelihoods are handed down from father to son. Such is the case of Doug MacRay (Affleck), the smart leader of a gang of vicious and notoriously successful robbers, whose father (Chris Cooper in a brief but terrific cameo) is behind bars.
Doug and his buddies- most notably his hot-headed trigger-happy childhood friend Jim (Jeremy Renner)- are through and through products of their environment and they know no livelihood outside their lives of crime. One particular job (the film’s brutally efficient opening sequence) leaves Doug questioning if he’s ready to call it quits and start anew. Unlike Jim, there is genuine humanity in Doug, and it is this humanity that causes him to reach out and take bank manager Claire’s hand (Rebecca Hall) to calm her down when she is too terrified to open the vault, to intervene later when Jim threatens to kill Claire and to finally establish a personal heartfelt connection with her.
The subsequent relationship between Doug and Claire is the heart of this morality tale and kudos to Affleck for handling it with much finesse. Indeed, it is to Affleck’s credit as a director that their budding romance develops convincingly without any over-sentimentalising. It is also to Affleck’s credit as an actor that he is able to keenly illuminate through this unlikely relationship the inner struggles his character Doug is going through. Affleck too shares a lovely chemistry with Hall, his brooding intensity complementing Hall’s refreshing simplicity.
Almost two-thirds of the movie is spent carefully delineating Doug’s attempt at a redemptive change in his life and the effect of the various characters in his life. With Claire represents the only upshot at this change, Doug has to contend with the borderline psychotic Jim, the local crime kingpin Fergie Colm (Pete Postlethwaite) and a zealous FBI agent (Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) fast on his tail. Affleck does a fair job balancing these disparate plot threads, though, compared to the book, parts like Doug’s poisonous past with Jim’s sister and single mom Krista (Blake Lively) as well as Doug’s other partners in crime are given particularly short shrift.
Still, Affleck has done marvellously at translating the atmosphere of the book to the big screen. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who have seen his earlier “Gone Baby Gone”, but interviews have revealed his depth of research into the blue-collar criminal subculture of Charlestown and it shows in the movie’s distinct sense of authenticity. He has also coaxed wonderfully authentic performances out of his ensemble cast- in particular Jeremy Renner’s dangerously menacing portrait of Jim- and the strong acting here from each and every one of his actors effectively keeps you engrossed throughout.
Affleck reserves most of the action for the last third of the movie, which crackles along at a sizzling pace. An exciting car chase sequence aside, the highlight of the high-octane action is most certainly the climactic shootout at Fenway Park, one of Boston’s iconic landmarks. Affleck doesn’t rush the action, building it slowly but surely, letting the intensity grow, and finally lets it out in a thrilling showdown between the Feds and Doug and his crew. By then, the investment Affleck has made in developing his characters pays off nicely, as you’ll find that the movie’s finish turns out unexpectedly poignant.
Of course, Affleck’s gift as a director in crafting complex character dramas was already apparent in “Gone Baby Gone” but his accomplishment here further reinforces his abilities in this regard. It also reveals a fresh side in Affleck’s directorial skill as an orchestrator of gripping action sequences attested by the brilliantly executed heists and car chases. Though it isn’t as accomplished as Michael Mann’s “Heat” or Martin Scorcese’s “The Departed”, Ben Affleck’s “The Town” is a perfectly entertaining heist drama in its own right and is most definitely a glowing addition to his fortunes as a director.
(Affleck’s return to home ground is a character-driven heist thriller that brims with excellent performances, gripping drama and intense action)
Review by Gabriel Chong