‘Town’ is directing at its best
September 25, 2010
Movie at a glance
Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Time: 123 minutes
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm.
The star of "Armageddon," "Gigli" and "Surviving Christmas" has had more than his fair share of second chances, but at long last, it looks like his movie career is back on track, on both sides of the camera, in "The Town."
When it comes to crime in Boston, there's no neighborhood that breeds more corruption than Charlestown. Bank robberies, in particular, are an epidemic, especially when local boy Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and his crew are out and about.
Growing up around a father (Chris Cooper) who's a lifer in federal prison, Doug has spent his whole life preparing for a career in hijacking armored cars and plundering financial institutions. But, Doug's most recent robbery has turned problematic.
As it turns out, Claire, a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) he and his men took hostage in the heat of the moment, lives right in their radius and could identify them easily if given the chance.
His best friend Jem's (Jeremy Renner) suggestion is to snuff her out, but Doug would rather handle things more diplomatically. As he trails this young woman who could potentially put him away forever, he begins to reconsider his life, especially once he begins to connect with her and realizes that he might need to get out of Boston and start anew.
But, old ties die hard, and Jem isn't about to let Doug throw away everything they've worked for. Likewise, the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who's been keeping in touch with Claire is only a few steps away from being able to apprehend Doug and company.
Affleck returns to the disaffected, blue collar loner role that made him famous in "Good Will Hunting" with phenomenal results. Playing a guy who's rarely questioned his negative lifestyle, he displays a strong aura of confidence in Doug's skills as a criminal but also in his desire to get out of such a harmful environment.
The same can't be said of Renner's character, who thrives on the impulsiveness of bank robbery and, like a modern-day Will Rogers, has never met a man he didn't like — to beat senseless.
Renner draws on the same internal chaos of his breakthrough role as an explosives expert in "The Hurt Locker," but he's the one with the short fuse this time.
Hall is charming as genteel but level-headed Claire, whose non-native status in Boston makes her stand out like a wad of currency soaked by a dye pack, especially when compared to Blake Lively as Jem's baby sister Krista, a trashy, racist, drug-addicted single mother looking to ensnare Doug into playing house with her.
Hamm is fine as the unfeeling fed who can't wait to see these hoods behind bars, playing it with a fervor that might seem drastic at first, but wait until you meet the man who's at the top, with Pete Postlethwaite chilling as Fergie the Florist, a bulb-nosed criminal mastermind who pulls the strings for Doug and Jem, and expects them to follow orders lest he clip them like roses from a thorn.
There's been no scarcity of solid movies centered around the criminal underbelly of Beantown lately, with "The Departed," "Mystic River" and the Affleck-heavy "Gone Baby Gone" leading the pack.
Perhaps it's the history of the area, the uniqueness of the dialects or just the magnetism of the Red Sox that fascinates audiences, but having all of these attractions and more rolled into one makes this really soar in quality.
With Affleck directing his sophomore feature, you can be sure that he'll show us the most telling points of the metropolis, setting the stage for a tale of a townie who both loves his neighborhood and hates what it's turned him into.
This kind of paradoxical dualism is not only prevalent in our anti-hero, his loves and his background — having potential as a pro hockey player, only to get kicked off the team for fighting too much — but in Boston itself, working as a great American city and a cesspool of thinly veiled vice.
Like tumblers in a bank vault, all the elements of "The Town" click into place just as they're supposed to. As crime dramas go, you can't do much better than this, but as the characters learn, make sure you're on the right side of the gun and don't ask too many questions.