One of the best heist movies in years comes to us courtesy of the surprisingly adept directorial eyes of Ben Affleck. The man has now directed two good movies—and this time out, he even stars and co-writes. He's becoming a one-man entertainment force to be reckoned with.
Let the comparisons to Clint Eastwood begin.
The Town takes place in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. Opening credits reveal that Charlestown is a hub for bank robberies, where fathers pass down their knowledge to their sons, and the robbery beat goes on.
Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a professional hockey washout who returns to Charlestown and essentially takes over the family business from his dad (Chris Cooper, who has one scene—and it's a doozy). Doug is the heist architect of a costume-wearing, ruthless thievery posse that includes friend and hothead James (a sinister, creepy Jeremy Renner).
The film opens with a stunning bank-robbery sequence that echoes elements of the trashy Patrick Swayze classic Point Break. The robbers dress in scary skeleton costumes, and tear through the bank with a ferocity that suggests bad things can and will happen. They wind up taking the assistant manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage. In the aftermath, Doug follows Claire to make sure she isn't going to identify anybody to the authorities.
While there are logistical elements (and one major screen goof involving a stunt driver) at which I could nitpick, I chose to enjoy the movie at face value. The impossibly handsome Jon Hamm plays an FBI agent trying to take down Doug's crew—and it is amazing what the crew is able to get away with while under Hamm's supposedly watchful eye. However, if Hamm's character prevented the robbers from flying into action, we would miss out on some amazingly well-done heist sequences. Worth noting is a rather electric heist during which the crew members dress like ugly nuns while toting automatic weapons. It's a strange, theatric choice, but it sure looks cool on the screen.
Affleck delivers one of his career-best performances as the central character, and helps himself along by eliciting great work from the likes of Hamm, Hall and Renner. Hall is a star in the making; she creates a truly sympathetic character, yet doesn't come off as a weak victim.
Affleck, in turn, manages to make his potentially nefarious criminal into a nice guy—with some major, major flaws. His character has a lot in common with Robert De Niro's career criminal in Heat. Hamm manages to instill his character with an air of competence and virtue, even though the agent can't stop a heist to save his life.
Renner steals every scene he's in as a trigger-happy crewmember who gets to keep his position, even though his actions constantly put the team in harm's way. I made the Eastwood comparison for Affleck, and I will make the James Cagney comparison for Renner. Somebody needs to write a Cagney biopic, pronto; Renner was born to play the part.
Blake Lively shows she has some versatility as she plays a townie and occasional love interest for Doug. The ever-reliable Pete Postlethwaite is also on hand as a crime lord using a flower shop as a cover.
The Town joins heist-genre classics like Heat and Dog Day Afternoon—and it's also one of the year's better love stories. Affleck can now take his seat in the "Actor-Directors With Juice" club alongside Eastwood; he can sit in the chair recently vacated by Mel Gibson. Better check that seat for gum and hallucinogenic drugs before you sit down, Ben.