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Honor (As Well As Romance, Retribution and Remorse) Among Thieves
on September 30, 2010
Ben Affleck returns to his old stomping grounds--the working class neighborhoods of Boston--for his second directorial effort "The Town." A solidly constructed crime thriller, "The Town" is at its most successful when it's exploring the specific dynamics of the area in question. Affleck has a sense of the place, the language and rhythm of its inhabitants, that lend an authenticity to the film that elevate it beyond typical genre fare.
That's why he has achieved success working in an area and with characters identifiable to his own upbringing. His previous Boston efforts include "Good Will Hunting" (a screenplay Oscar for Affleck) and "Gone Baby Gone" (Affleck's acclaimed first feature as a director). "Gone Baby Gone," in many ways a standard detective plot, was a huge revelation for being surprisingly hard edged and cynical (it helps to be adapted from a Dennis Lehane book with similar qualities)--and it is that cynicism that made it one of my favorite films of its year.
Now adapting Chuck Hogan's "Prince of Thieves," Affleck casts himself as the stoic lead Doug MacRay. Raised in the Charlestown area, MacRay has been unable to break away from the legacy of his youth, his father, and local crime bosses. He runs a successful crew in robbing banks and armored cars. On a job gone wrong, a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) is temporarily taken hostage. When MacRay's best friend on the job (Jeremy Renner) becomes concerned she might know something to identify them--Affleck sets off to observe her as she lives uncomfortably close to the crew. But getting a little too cozy, he starts to idealize her as an opportunity to escape the life he now feels trapped in. One more big score and maybe he can get a fresh start.
Affleck plays the role with a tight lipped intensity and calm. It's left to the dynamic Renner to provide the menace and unpredictability within this tale. Turning on a dime, Renner is terrific here (as he almost always is--even in lesser films). Small roles by Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, and Pete Postlethwaite help illuminate how MacRay, while basically a decent guy, went wrong. Jon Hamm adepts himself well as MacRay's FBI foil. The cast is uniformly excellent, the action sequences are well choreographed, and the grittiness feels real and alive. However, the romance between Affleck and Hall (so inherent to the plot) is actually the least successful element of the film. The biggest lapse of logic comes after Affeck has identified that he's being tailed by the FBI. Instead of laying low--both for her sake and to appear uninvolved--Affleck continues to date Hall openly, even lunching in a sidewalk cafe. And when she learns the truth, I'm not sure her character has been developed sufficiently to make her choices appear logical.
In the scope of the picture, however, these are small gripes. "The Town" is most assuredly a successful and rich thriller for adult audiences. Affleck displays range and restraint as a director--and if that's not enough, there's a terrific cast working at the top of their game! Check it out! KGHarris 9/10.