Ben Affleck's second feature film as a director -- if nothing else -- proves he's no fluke. In all the ways his sincere and revealing debut "Gone Baby Gone" succeeds, so does "The Town." Both are Boston-based crime dramas that are both touchingly dramatic at times yet gripping at others. More impressive with his work on "The Town," however, is that it proves he could just as easily go on to direct an action blockbuster as he could an Oscar-winning drama.
It starts with the cast and the performances he gets from them. In 2007, he helped Amy Ryan to a supporting actress nomination, and that's ignoring the other talents in the film such as Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Ed Harris. In "The Town," he gets Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner in his first major film since his breakout in "The Hurt Locker" and Jon Hamm in his first major film since TV's "Mad Men" took off. He also gets a pair of up-and-comers in Rebecca Hall and "Gossip Girl" star Blake Lively. And that's not to mention Pete Postelthwaite and Chris Cooper. Next to "Inception," it's the best ensemble cast of the year.
Based on the Chuck Hogan novel "Prince of Thieves," the film follows a team of bank robbers from Charlestown, an area notorious for grooming the best at intercepting armored cars and taking down banks. As with "Gone Baby Gone," also based on a novel (by Dennis Lehane), the city of Boston and the people and culture are as important to Affleck as the plot. He's sure to let shots of the Charlestown bridge and Fenway Park soak in amidst the ever-building pinch the main characters are in.
Doug MacRay (Affleck) and his buddy Jim (Renner) and a couple others pull off a bank job in the opening scene, but when it doesn't go exactly as planned, they're forced to kidnap the bank manager (Hall). To make sure she didn't see anything and can hand them on a platter to the feds (led by Jon Hamm's Special Agent Frawley), Doug trails her, only to find himself falling for her.
"The Town" is one of those crime dramas/bank-job action films that while not revelatory for the genre, executes everything well and sticks to a character-driven story in order to stay meaningful. Perhaps the reason it works so well is because it floats in between the drama, never becoming too much of a guns 'n robbers flick, but also not slipping into crime melodrama for too long. Affleck's performance as MacRay acts in accordance; it's tastefully understated and he lets go of the machismo that has marred a few of his previous roles.
The film also has an unexpected but much appreciated sense of humor. In a mile-a-minute crime drama/thriller, you don't expect to laugh the way you will in "The Town," which speaks even more to the writing and Affleck's versatility. Even if there are some plot conventions and no-surprise characters (as good as Hamm is, he's playing every other quick-witted FBI guy in films), the dialogue is sharp, the story is exciting and the way we are so easily able to see things from MacRay's perspective as the bank robber who wants out makes up for any use of convention as a crutch.
There's no doubt that if "The Town" becomes a success that studios will seek out Affleck for some more high-profile projects and it will certainly be interesting to see how he handles material not rooted in Boston sub-culture. As long as he continues to get such memorable performances out of his actors, he'll be doing things on the other end of the camera for a long time to come.
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Crime / Drama
Crime / Drama
The Charlestown neighborhood of Boston is renowned for churning out a high number of armed robbers, generation after generation. These robbers never leave their Charlestown life on their own volition, the neighborhood where there is an unwritten code to protect that lifestyle. Such robbers include friends Doug MacRay, James Coughlin, Albert 'Gloansy' Magloan and Desmond Elden. Doug and James in particular treat each other like family, as the Coughlins have realistically been as such to Doug since Doug's mother ran off and Doug's father, Stephen MacRay, was sent to prison. James' single mother sister, the drugged out Krista Coughlin, and Doug have a casual sexual relationship. The foursome carry out a mostly successful bank robbery, but due to circumstances take the bank manager, Claire Keesey, hostage for a short period before releasing her physically unharmed. They find out that Claire lives in Charlestown, so they want to ensure that she did not see anything that could incriminate them if they were to ever run into her. As such, Doug begins a personal relationship with her to find out what she knows and what she's told the police and the FBI, who have taken charge of the investigation. He learns that she has kept some information from the authorities for her own protection but information that could identify James in particular. But Doug slowly falls for her, as she does for him. Ultimately, Doug dreams about leaving his Charlestown life to be with Claire anywhere but there. But Doug has to try and keep his true identity from her, and keep the fact that he is seeing her from his colleagues. But leaving is not as easy as he would like as he and the gang are tasked with a big job by a local gangster named Fergie whether Doug likes it or not. And Adam Frawley, the FBI's lead investigator, comes into evidence that links the foursome to the bank robbery and a subsequent armored car heist, so is on their tail for evidence that will send them away dead or alive.
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May 20, 2012 at 7:09 am