Film Review

Affleck almost makes up for ‘Pearl Harbor’

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Making fun of Ben Affleck became a national pastime in the earlier part of this decade. Everybody was doing it; it was like the Macarena. Granted he kinda had it coming as he seemed much better suited as tabloid fodder than as a leading man.
I always resisted the urge to pile on because I actually liked the guy. It was the beginning of his career in Kevin Smith’s movies that endeared him to me, especially on the DVD commentary to those same films where he revealed himself to be likable and intelligent.
Not that Affleck’s intelligence showed up in his career choices where he became notorious for being well paid to be in crappy movies. He made a movie called “Paycheck” for Pete’s sake. How self-referential can you be?
But let’s not forget that the guy did take home an Academy Award for writing “Good Will Hunting” with his buddy Matt Damon, so we shouldn’t be shocked to learn Affleck has talent.
Even still, many were willing to write off Affleck’s impressive directorial debut in “Gone Baby Gone” as nothing more than a fluke.
As it turns out, it was as much of a fluke as “Gigli” was a box-office smash. With his new movie “The Town,” Affleck has remade his career both in front of and behind the camera and delivered one of the best movies of the year to boot.
At its heart, this Boston-set crime thriller could be best described as “Heat” meets “The Departed,” but in my humble opinion it is better than either of those films. (That’s right, I said it.)
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a lifelong resident of the blue-collar, Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, which we are told has produced more bank robbers than any place else in the world.
Doug is a true product of his environment as he orchestrates several successful armored car and bank robberies. He seems to want a way out of a lifestyle that will leave him either dead or in prison, but finds that getting out of the neighborhood is trickier than any bank holdup.
Following the thrilling robbery that opens the film, Doug’s gang briefly takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage before letting her go. Doug decides to follow Claire to see how much she knows and unintentionally strikes up a relationship with her.
Since he was masked, Claire has no idea that she’s falling for the man that robbed and kidnapped her. It becomes clear that Claire is Doug’s path to salvation, but the question then becomes is it even possible for Doug to be saved?
“The Town” is a movie that crackles with dramatic tension and heart-pounding action. While Affleck deserves a lion’s share of the credit for this movie’s success, there’s no way he could have pulled it off without the fantastic cast he has assembled around him.
First and foremost is Jeremy Renner in his first movie since the Academy Award-winning “The Hurt Locker.” Renner plays Doug’s lifelong friend and partner-in-crime James Coughlin. Renner is so coolly dangerous and moderately unhinged that you can’t take your eyes off of him, mostly because you’re worried he’ll figure out a way to crawl down off the screen and punch you in the face. His performance has “Best Supporting Actor” written all over it.
Jon Hamm plays FBI agent Adam Frawley who pursues Doug and his crew with an Elliot Ness-like doggedness and proves to be a more than capable adversary.
Also keep your eyes out for Pete Postlethwaite as the local crime boss known as “The Florist” and Chris Cooper as Doug’s life sentence-serving father. Cooper is so devastating in one single scene performed through prison glass that if there was an Oscar for Best Performance in Under Five Minutes of Screen Time, he would have it sewn up.
Affleck deserves the most credit for the way he incorporates the city of Boston into the film. The place lives and breathes to the point that it becomes a character unto itself. A white-knuckle car chase during the movie has as much to do with the claustrophobically narrow city streets as it does with the vehicles careening down them.
Affleck even gets a screenwriter credit along with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, who developed the script from the Chuck Hogan book “Prince of Thieves.” Clearly this was a project Affleck went all-in with as his career had reached a “sink or swim” juncture.
Fortunately for all involved, Affleck swam so well he would have left Michael Phelps with a silver medal.
“The Town” is not to be missed and is such a powerful film that it is likely to wash all of Affleck’s previous cinematic sins away. OK, so maybe not “Pearl Harbor,” but I think we can let everything else slide.

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