Ben Affleck and Rebecca Hall, the hedgehog and the fox, combine forces to excellent effect in “The Town,” a fast-paced, character-driven heist movie that combines robberies with romance and solidifies Affleck’s reputation as an actor with a genuine gift for directing.
The hedgehog, in philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s celebrated formulation, knows one big thing, and the big thing Boston native Affleck knows inside out is his hometown. It’s the site of this film, his “Gone Baby Gone” directing debut, as well as the Oscar-winning “Good Will Hunting” screenplay that launched his career.
The fox, by contrast, knows many little things, and Hall is a perfect chameleon of an actress whose extraordinary range of parts, from roles in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Please Give” to the “Red Riding” trilogy, illustrates that she is capable of becoming anybody anywhere.
“The Town” also shows signs that just because Affleck does his best work in Boston, it doesn’t mean he’s limited to it. He’s had a hand (along with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard) in the film’s nicely done screenplay and he’s gotten excellent performances out of such formidable costars as ” The Hurt Locker’s” Jeremy Renner, “Mad Men’s” John Hamm, Chris Cooper, Pete Postlethwaite and Blake Lively.
Affleck also seems more confident and at ease in the director’s chair this time around and less like the actor with something to prove. The film’s palpable authenticity is less self-conscious than it was in “Gone Baby Gone” and Affleck is able to create a strong enough sense of verisimilitude to allow us to buy into the film’s unlikely premise.
Based on the novel “Prince of Thieves” by Chuck Hogan, “The Town” is set in Charlestown, a slowly gentrifying blue-collar Boston neighborhood that has apparently produced more bank robbers than any comparable area in the world.
It’s a crack team of four of those locally bred criminal professionals we see first, wearing skeleton Halloween masks and expertly taking down a bank in nearby Cambridge. Quick, slick and forceful, the team is savvy enough to check potential cash for dye packs and bait bills and understands that being loud and scary is half the battle.
“The Town” pays equal attention to the illegal side of its story, boasting several exciting robberies and a tense car chase through Boston’s narrow North End. And since traditional crime dramas are only as strong as the strength of the lawmen pursuing the evildoers, Hamm is ideally cast as implacable FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley, relentless in his pursuit of MacRay and his team.
Though the FBI always seems one step behind MacRay, that is too close for the criminal’s comfort, and as the walls start closing in he has to make some serious decisions. As for Affleck, the decision he made to star in and direct “The Town” was one of the best he’s made in a while.
Written by Kenneth Turan
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