Movie Review: The Town
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
In his 38 years, Ben Affleck - director and star of "The Town" - has worn more entertainment-industry hats than most people know.
He was a child actor ("Voyage of the Mimi," we'll never forget you). He was hysterical as the bully O'Bannion in "Dazed and Confused," one of the best-cast movies of the past few decades. He's been a repertory player in Kevin Smith's movies and picked up a screenwriting Oscar for "Good Will Hunting." He tried being an action star ("The Sum of All Fears," we have already forgotten you), an activist for the Democratic Party, a very public boyfriend to Jennifer Lopez and a low-key family man. He's been a solid presence in more lousy movies (word to "Pearl Harbor," "Gigli," "Daredevil," the list is long) than good ones (well, "Hollywoodland" holds up), but their lousiness was rarely his fault.
Affleck's most successful role might turn out to be that of director. His debut behind the camera, "Gone Baby Gone," a taut noir based on a Dennis Lehane novel, benefited from his brother Casey's low-key turn as a baby-faced, ham-and-egg private investigator, but it was clear big Ben knew how to put together a movie.
"The Town," set in the same Bahstan-thug milieu, is less successful. A heist movie is a heist movie, so they're all going to share elements, but "The Town" is essentially Michael Mann's 1995 Los Angeles crime epic "Heat" set in Charlestown, Mass., home of the Bunker Hill Monument and more bank robbers per block than you can possibly imagine.
In fairness, though Mann took pains to portray the crew in "Heat" as workaholic blanks, Affleck tries like heck to ground his characters in the daily life of working-class Boston. Affleck himself is rock-solid as Doug MacRay, a smarter-than-your-average career thug whose mother is long gone and whose father (Chris Cooper in a game-winning cameo) is doing multiple life terms.
MacRay is the brains of his operation, planning local scores and taking them with dynamic ease. But when a bank job goes wrong, his partner and near-brother Jem (a skillfully sociopathic Jeremy Renner) takes bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, lovely) hostage. The crew discovers that Keesey lives in town and should probably be eliminated. MacRay gets to know her outside of work, as it were, and the two (extremely quickly) fall in love.
MacRay is ready to leave the only life he's ever known when the local boss (Pete Postlethwaite, fun to watch even as he eats the scenery with a fork) demands the proverbial one last job. Just when Dougie thought he was out, they keep pulling him back in.
Try as it might, "The Town" can never quite shake its essential derivativeness. The crew is pursued by FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm, not even bothering to try the accent), essentially Al Pacino's character in "Heat" without any of Pacino's gaga weirdness. There's even a version of the massive shoot-out from "Heat," the close quarters of Boston's alleys subbing in for Los Angeles' echoing downtown canyons.
The revelation is, of all people, "Gossip Girl's" Blake Lively as Jem's sister Krista - Lively embodies the single mom Oxycontin junkie with a tangible sorrow. One can ultimately take or leave MacRay and Keesey's relationship and MacRay's shot at redemption, but it's the Kristas about whom you want to find more. For his next trick, it would be great to see Affleck-the-director leave the showy gunplay behind and focus on the everyday dramas of the town he clearly adores.