Ben Affleck’s second directorial
feature, though formulaic in its latter half, never ceases to entertain,
with gripping performances, sleek action sequences and flawless pacing.
Affleck, again, proves that he knows what he’s doing behind the camera,
as he looks to someday become Boston’s answer to Scorsese, which draws
attention to the only major problem with his latest crime drama. Whereas
Scorsese’s films have always been meaningful despite their violent
subject matter, The Town is empty.
Set in Charlestown, “the
bank robbery capital of America,” this adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s
novel Prince of Thieves sets out to achieve the classic crime
story of the gangster who wants out. That thug is Doug MacRay, played
honestly by a scraggly faced Ben Affleck. A former hockey star who nearly
went pro, MacRay is a veteran thief born into a life of crime by his
Irish blood—and father (Chris Cooper), who is spending the rest of
his life in the slammer.
When his gang’s latest heist
has FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm from Mad Men) on his trail and
key witness Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) in his bed, MacRay tells Jem—Jeremy
Renner (The Hurt Locker) with a thick accent, sporting a 'stache—and his Bostonian brothers
that he’s done, moving to Florida. Before he can skip town, though,
complications arise: As Frawley closes in, MacRay’s boss threatens
to kill Claire, and Claire discovers MacRay’s true identity.
Forced to do one last job before
getting free, MacRay finds himself in a mess. Affleck uses this part
of the film to set up liberation for his protagonist; though not realizing
it, he does just the opposite, exchanging justice for vengeance. MacRay
may finally get what he’s after, but it’s not until he punishes
those who wronged him. And the scenes in which this plays out are meant
to please the viewer, as the protagonist murders his victims in style.
Moreover, there’s never a
sense that something bigger is inspiring him. He feels bad for putting
fear in Claire and tries to avoid hurting people on the job, but his
ultimate motivator is to avoid getting caught because he doesn’t
want to end up like his dad. As it plays out, MacRay has every opportunity
to do what’s right, whether by turning himself in, staying loyal to
Jem or rescuing Jem’s sister Krista (Blake Lively). Instead, his
so-called deliverance comes through acts of self-interest.
This skewed portrayal of redemption,
in the end, leaves The Town feeling cold and hollow, which is
a tragedy because it’s such a riveting picture. With honest turns
by every actor (particularly Renner and Hall, who anchor the film), a
carefully balanced tone that uses both subtlety and emotion to grab
the audience, and a realistic backdrop on the streets of South Boston,
The Town is redemptive for Affleck’s career. Unfortunately, the
same can’t be said for himself in the lead.
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