“From the acclaimed director of GONE BABY GONE” goes the trailers and TV spot for this new crime thriller that don’t happen to mention that Ben Affleck is that said acclaimed director. For despite the fact that he’s slowly been gaining respect and career clout over the last several years, Affleck is a name still associated with box office poison like GIGLI and PEARL HARBOR.
GONE BABY GONE was indeed a strong directorial debut, but this much larger production is even stronger. "The Town" is about a crew of expert thieves from a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston that the opening titles tell us is “the bank robbery capitol of America.”
Affleck, Jeremy Renner (THE HURT LOCKER), Owen Burke, and Irish rapper Slaine make up the crew who we meet in creepy green Skeletor masks and dark hoods in action at a downtown Boston bank. They take an employee hostage (Rebecca Hall) as they make their getaway.
They release the blindfolded Hall not too long after with Renner taking her driver’s license and threatening her life if she talks to the FBI.
Which is exactly what she does - in a traumatized state to an agent played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men). Hamm is determined to bring down Affleck’s crew: “This is a not-screwing-around crew, so find me something that looks like a print ‘cause this not-screwing-around thing is about to go both ways!” he exclaims.
The trigger-happy Renner wants to eliminate Hall since she is a potential witness that could bring them down, but there’s a little problem: Affleck may be falling in love with her.
That started with Affleck following Hall and talking to her at a laundromat. He couldn’t resist turning the charm and she almost immediately took to him.
Affleck, of course, wants out of the life of crime but don’t you know it – the crew + an elderly neighborhood florist who has Godfatherly powers (Peter Postlewaite) wants him to pull another major heist.
Everything comes to a head when…oh, I should stop with the spoilers because the best part is seeing how this all plays out. There is heavy artillery, many deaths, and a bunch of vehicles are wrecked if you want to know if it has plenty of action, but its concern for the characters is what drives it.
Even with a number of tough guy clichés and a certain percentage of implausibility in the last third, Affleck’s adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince Of Thieves” is a superb heist film with a compelling emotional core.
This is largely due to its cast who makes this material work. Affleck’s Boston accent is impressively un-annoying and he plays pathos much more convincingly than in the past.
Hamm hasn’t completely shed the skin of the ultra smooth Don Draper, but his confidence in what could have been a standard by-the-book Fed role nicely contrasts with that of the attitude of the crew’s thug-like lo tech methods.
Hall does a lot with a very little of a character – the woman caught in the middle of a boys club’s row. She has cute chemistry with Affleck and the fearfulness is felt in her restrained shakiness. Renner is one note but he plays it well and it’s all that’s needed from him in this tightly plot.
Chris Cooper as Affleck’s prison lifer father is in one especially effective and necessary scene, and there’s also Blake Lively as a boozy bar floozy.
THE TOWN may not be another crime epic on the scale of HEAT or THE DEPARTED, but it’s a major work by a guy who next time - with hope - will have his name up front in the advertising.