Affleck pulls it off with ‘The Town’

Ben Affleck has once again stolen the spotlight with his latest opus as both director and lead in The Town on the heels of his previous lauded work, Gone Baby Gone (2007). From the first adrenaline-filled heist to the final scene, the film takes the audience through the train-wreck life of Doug MacRay and his professional crew of thieves as they commit a chain of robberies throughout Boston, Affleck’s hometown and the set for several of his previous films.

Though the plot is a cliché – following the typical criminal in love, doing his last job for the honor of his father, etc. – the film is made all too real through standout performances by Ben Affleck as leading man Doug MacRay and Rebecca Hall as his love interest, Claire Keesey.

Following the professional band of thieves led by MacRay, the film opens with the skeleton-masked crew breaking into a Boston bank. Everything goes as planned until Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), MacRay’s partner and best friend, decides to take Keesey, the bank manager, hostage. After releasing her, MacRay discovers that she lives only four blocks from the gang in Charlestown. Deciding it would be best to tag her, MacRay sets up a “chance” laundromat encounter to charm out of her anything she might have known about the robbery.

The two quickly fall for each other, leaving MacRay in limbo between his past and the demands of “the Town,” epitomized by best friend and psychopath Coughlin and local gang boss Fergie. Coughlin convinces MacRay that they need to pull another heist, unintentionally leading the gang into the hands of relentless FBI detective Adam Frawley, Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. The movie develops at a fast pace, keeping the audience engaged in an intimate blend of adrenaline-fueled chase scenes and heart-stopping emotional cuts of MacRay and his supporting actors.

While typical crime thrillers may feature the protagonist attempting to figure out the next big hit, much of The Town focuses on the plight of MacRay trying to come to terms with his own past. Affleck shines in his portrayal of MacRay, allowing the backstory of the character to truly become intertwined in the present through not only dialogue but also the character’s choices and actions.

Affleck’s role would not have been nearly as stunning without Renner and Hall. Renner breathes life into Coughlin as the archetypal loose-screw character, adding a layer of deep vulnerability and fear into the trigger-happy and otherwise two-dimensional sidekick character. As the movie progresses Coughlin grows from the angry sociopath let loose to the childhood friend, fearing the changes that have been brought about by the increasingly dangerous nature of the work they do. Hall delivers a solid performance as bank manager Keesey, providing the vulnerability of a traumatized hostage victim seeking an outlet from her fears. Though it seems her character becomes attached too quickly, Keesey maintains the tension between her romance with MacRay and her interactions with FBI agent Frawley.

Affleck has proven time and time again that he is not only a standout actor but also a terrific director, and The Town is no exception to the rule. The twists and turns, along with the quick pace, will keep you on edge, while the character work will have you feeling as if you are a part of the story. The Town is a legitimate contender of a movie – a must see. Two thumbs up.

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