By Gary Murray
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, John Hamm and Rebecca Hall
Written by Peter Craig, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck
Running time 2 hrs 5 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Over the last few years Ben Affleck has become a bit of a punch line in Hollywood. After he and Matt Damon won the Oscar for Best Screenplay in Good Will Hunting, it seemed that Ben's career was in a bit of a tailspin. He was known more for the women he dated than his acting prow ness. All one has to do is look back at Gigli to see how much of a laughingstock he became. Slowly, his star began to get a little bit of shine. His turn as Christopher Reeves in Hollywoodland was lauded by the critics and his directing took notice in Gone Baby Gone. The latest film that puts his persona on the respect track is the new gritty crime drama The Town.
Set in Charlestown, just across the river from Boston, we are instantly told that the area is the bank robbing capital. The seedy locals are just as suspicious of the cops as they are of outsiders. The guys of the neighborhood are all tight with each other and tight lipped. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) is a member of the crew, holding up a bank. The robbers have a tight operation, using split second second timing and leave little evidence. They don't want to hurt anybody, they just want the money.
During their latest robbery, Jem (Jeremy Renner) takes a hostage Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) the bank manager. After the robbery, they let her go with a threat. She does get a look at Jem's neck tattoo of the Fighting Irish.
Jem wants Doug to check on Claire, just to make sure she's not going to be a witness. Doug follows her and makes contact, asking her out. The two start up a relationship. Jem want Doug to do another robbery, something that Doug thinks is too much, too soon. The FBI (John Hamm as the lead agent) are hot on their trail, taking pictures and trying to intimidate different individuals. As Doug falls more for Claire, the more he is pulled into things that he does not think are of the best interest of the gang. Jem, who is like a brother to Doug, senses that thinks are falling apart and he must do something to keep everything together. The good guys and the bad guys are on a convergence that will take place in a very high profile robbery target.
Ben Affleck is perfect as Doug. He shows signs of vulnerability while still keeping his macho exterior. As he reveals his life to Claire, he aches with childhood heartbreak. In moment after moment, he finds the acting details that bring a solid third dimension to the character. This is the strongest performance of his career, something to be remembered at the end of the year.
Jeremy Renner walks a tightrope with Jem. He is the firecracker with the one-second fuse, the slightest spark will set off an explosion. There is this loyalty between him and Doug that is both deep and strong. Jeremy is the kind of an actor who can do a role like this in his sleep, but he makes it all seem new and fresh. He shows that all the praise he generated from The Hurt Locker is deserved.
Rebecca Hall just draws the audience in. She is the outsider who longs for something to fill an unspoken void in her life. With every glance, she seems to signal that the pains in her life are real and unknown to the outside world. She used this same kind of sadness in her turn in The Prestige, a great little film of obsession and magic from a few seasons back.
As a director, Ben Affleck has matured. He handles multiple plot lines and difficult emotions with ease and grace. He goes from action packed chase scenes to little moments of tenderness without losing his pace. With a good deal of time and luck, he could become an actor/director of the Clint Eastwood mode. Only time will tell.
The Town is a rarity, a strong action film with interesting, thought-out characters. The film is much more of a crime drama than a shoot'em up flick, more a modern day Butch and Sundance than Bonnie and Clyde. It delivers for both the thrill seekers and those who look for something with a little emotional bite. The Town is the first film to seek out and garner critical praise. It has a very good chance to be remembered come Oscar time.