Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use, 125 minutes
Affleck's a sublime force in this fervent, powerful "Town"
I never in my life thought I would give a great review to a film made by and starring Ben Affleck. The usually engaging but bland actor proved he can direct with the affecting “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007, and he again returns to his Bostonian roots in the powerful, fervent new crime thriller “The Town.” Affleck, who directs, stars and co-writes the script, provides a sublime dramatic effort in kicking off the fall movie season and it’s one of the year’s most layered but intense films. It’s also superbly acted by everyone in the cast, including Affleck himself, who gives his least self-aware performance in years, proving he may be his own best director.
Based on Chuck Hogan’s best-selling novel “Prince of Thieves,” the film follows four bank robbers in the Boston suburb of Charlestown as they’re pursued by the FBI. Affleck is career criminal Doug MacRay, who is the mastermind behind the team. One of his partners and closest friends is Jem Coughlin (“The Hurt Locker’s” Jeremy Renner, pitch-perfect), an ex-con who’s served time for killing an officer in the past. After they rob a bank in the area and let go of one of their hostages, Claire (Rebecca Hall) unknowingly becomes involved with Doug as he initially follows her then falls in love with her. Meanwhile, special agent Adam Frawley (“Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm, excellent) is hotly pursuing the men and eager to put them away for all their crimes and misdeeds.
“The Town” is an engrossing, character-driven but cat-and-mouse crime thriller that will likely end up in the awards mix at the end of the year. An intense, pulpy blend of action and drama, Affleck is quickly establishing himself as a force behind the camera (this reminds of something Sidney Lumet would've done in the 1970's), and though he’s still a better director than actor, especially in handling both the action and the drama, he gives a strong, realistic turn as the leader of the pack. True, he gives himself the best lines, the best scenes and his character’s fate isn’t as ugly as the rest, even if the ending opts for a braver one than most would in this genre.
The main highlight of the film is a “French Connection”-style car chase through the streets of Boston that revs up the film’s midsection. Though that scene alone is worth the price of admission, you shouldn't miss the stellar performances director Affleck elicits from everyone in the large cast, including himself. Especially good is Renner in a squirrely performance as Affleck’s right-hand man but troublemaker, and Jon Hamm, in a strong turn as the FBI agent in pursuit.
British actress Hall will likely garner awards attention in an affecting turn as the one who Affleck’s character falls for. Her shattering, confrontational scene with Affleck after she learns his true identity is one of “The Town’s” best moments outside the action. Even Blake Lively, best known for the TV show “Gossip Girl,” is quite believable in a brief but key role that clearly plays against type for the young actress.
“The Town” is miles better than Affleck’s first feature, “Gone Baby Gone,” which itself was a serviceable film. The Hollywood-style ending is the film’s biggest flaw, leaving Affleck and his character relatively unscathed, a fact that's blatantly obvious given the rest of the cast gets so bloodied and bruised (literally, he leaves the climax without a single scratch). That notwithstanding, “The Town” is an worthwhile, satisfying crime saga, superbly drawn and sublimely executed. Definitely worth a view.