Affleck proves a man about 'Town'

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Town"

Ap Photo/Warner Bros., Claire Folger
Ap Photo/Warner Bros., Claire Folger
In this publicity image released by Warner Bros., Rebecca Hall, left, and Ben Affleck are shown in a scene from "The Town."

Warner Bros. Pictures

2 hours, 3 minutes

Ben Affleck was portrayed in the media as little more than a pretty boy accessory to either Matt Damon or Jennifer Lopez, depending on the situation, for so long that it became easy to forget that he's actually an Oscar-winning screenwriter, as well as a pretty darn good actor. When "Gone Baby Gone" came out a couple of years ago, it won a lot of critical acclaim and made decent money at the box-office, but very little was said about Ben Affleck, despite the fact that the emotionally-charged thriller was the actor's directorial debut.

Not to be deterred, Ben is back at it again, this time starring in as well as directing an action-packed gritty crime drama that many are comparing to "Heat," one of the best films from the master of gritty crime-drama, Michael Mann. Though Affleck is certainly adept at picking good material, there's a thread running through this film, as well as through his best work, "Gone" and "Good Will Hunting." Boston, the city where he was raised, has often played a supporting role in Affleck's movies, but in "The Town," it's hard to say whether it's as a hero or a villain.

The "Town" refers, more specifically, to Charlestown, a Boston suburb that has reputedly spawned more bank robbers than just about anywhere else. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a smart kid from the neighborhood who went from a broken home to a failed bid at professional hockey, to finally become the proud practitioner of the town's most infamous claim to fame. Along with his crew of childhood friends, Doug has managed to pull off close to a dozen big scores, making him a nice chunk of change as well as marking him a valuable commodity to the local mob boss, Fergus "The Florist" Colm.

Doug has a reputation for being careful and calm, not the kind of guy to take risks or make mistakes. But in the film's opening heist, everything changes. The four bank robbers enter wearing Halloween costumes and, at first, everything is going to plan. However, after getting spooked and clubbing the bank president, Doug's best friend Jim decides to take the bank manager hostage. Claire, played by up-and-coming actress Rebecca Hall, is terrified, but Doug's reassurance and kindness see her through the ordeal. When Jim takes her driver's license with the intention of scaring her into silence about what she may have seen, Doug decides to take matters into his own hands, telling Jim he'd keep an eye on her to see what she knows.

You can see where this is going. An "accidental" meeting turns into a friendship, then love. Now Doug, who's been looking for a way to change the man he blames Charlestown for turning him into, sees a way out. He wants to leave, to get away, but naturally one last job is going to get in the way of everything.

"The Town," well-acted, scripted, and energetically shot, is, more than anything else, solid. It's a compliment that foregoes other compliments such as creative, unique, or thought-provoking, but it's a compliment none the less. "The Town" hits all its marks and makes for entertaining high-end escapism. I'm not sure there are any greater truths to be had here, but it's good fun and measures the car chases and shoot-outs with genuine emotion and drama.

Affleck, who co-wrote the script, gives us some crackling dialogue that only rarely strays into cliche. The acting is, across the board, above par, with especially powerful performances by Hall, Affleck and Jeremy Renner, as the volatile Jim. Renner, who was recently nominated for Best Actor for his work in "The Hurt Locker," is proving to be a highly capable performer.

Also very good, in a small role, is Pete Postlethwaite as Fergus Colm, whose apparent frail demeanor belies some chilling menace. Postlethwaite is known for Irish patriarchal roles, and his inclusion was a good choice.

The weak link, if there is one, would be John Hamm as Adam Frawley, the FBI special agent on Doug's trail. Hamm is fine, but somehow the anger and vitriol his character displays isn't really backed up by anything in the story, at least that we see. Perhaps that's a problem of editing or script, but Frawley seems amped a little past the rest of the characters in a slightly off-putting way. Also, not a watcher of Hamm's hit series "Mad Men," I have trouble seeing him as deeply dramatic. I'm more familiar with his hilarious turn on the comedy "30 Rock," a fact that made me want to chuckle whenever he was onscreen. That's not really his fault, I guess.

So far, Ben Affleck is batting a thousand, as far as his directorial duties go. Granted, that's out of two movies, but "The Town" proves that "Gone Baby Gone" was no fluke.

Grade: A-

"The Town" is rated R for graphic violence, sexual situations, and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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