An intense trip to 'The Town'
Actor/director Ben Affleck has earned some well-earned derision.
The abomination known as Gigli and that animal cracker scene in Armageddon are enough to put the guy on anyone's "Do Not Watch List," but when Affleck has a job worth doing, he does it right.
The Town is case in point.
Directed by and starring Affleck (Gone Baby Gone), this Boston heist story is a well-written and superbly cast drama with some of the most intense robbery scenes since Samuel L. Jackson held up McDowell's in Coming to America.
OK, bad example. They're considerably more intense than that (and with a noticeable lack of Arsenio Hall), the kind of action scenes that make audiences stop in their popcorn-munching tracks, not realizing the edge of one's seat is so precariously close.
Through solid writing (screenplay by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on Chuck Hogan's novel, "Prince of Thieves"), The Town invests its audience in its characters, who, while not very original, are played so convincingly that you almost don't notice otherwise.
Steadfast pacing and outstanding cinematography, courtesy of Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood), make for an immersive trip to Charlestown, a borough of Boston that's reportedly reared a record number of bank robbers.
Among them are Doug MacRay (Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker), two childhood friends turned adult criminals, having pulled off scores of thorough and nearly untraceable bank robberies.
Their latest comes with a hitch, though. In an act of desperation, the impulsive Coughlin takes a hostage, bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall, Frost/Nixon), against the cautious MacRay's wishes. After a clean getaway, the masked robbers release her unharmed, much to Coughlin's chagrin.
Still not convinced, he insists they sever this loose end violently, but MacRay refuses and decides to personally determine whether or not Claire poses a threat. He and Claire meet in the process, she completely unaware that he orchestrated and participated in the emotionally scarring robbery, and they soon develop a friendship.
As MacRay and Claire grow closer, and dogged FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm, A Single Man) draws nearer, MacRay becomes increasingly convinced to leave his life of crime and start anew elsewhere.
This, of course, is easier said than done, as subsequent robberies and Coughlin's hot-blooded personality keep MacRay - despite his best efforts - in a downward, self-destructing spiral.
Like its characters, the story's nothing too original, but again, The Town's writing and effective acting makes this foray into Boston crime compelling all throughout.
Renner's particularly convincing as Coughlin, bringing a volatile intensity to each of his scenes; like a soda can in a microwave, you don't know when he's going to burst, but you know it's going to be messy.
Hall brings a wonderfully understated performance for the emotionally scarred Claire, convincing as a woman who's survived a terrifying experience and reacts as any human would.
And, I must say, Affleck pulls off the Boston accent with grace to spare, portraying a protagonist audiences can't help but root for, despite his criminal tendencies.
In a time where heist movies are a dime a dozen, with hastily written scripts and herky-jerky camera work, The Town offers a welcome getaway for cinema-goers who respect both substance and style.
The Town, rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.