And the Academy Award for most generic title goes to… The Town! One can only guess Ben Affleck and his team of writers came up with that gem only after discarding The Departed But Not Quite As Good, The Bank Robberies, The Movie and The One Where Ben Affleck Sexes A Drugged-Out Blake Lively.
The title is a work of unsurpassed genius in bland insignificance, much like Affleck’s acting career after Chasing Amy. But lo and behold, the writer-director-star makes a comeback worthy of the 2004 Red Sox in the stunning crime thriller. The movie is nearly mesmerizing enough to wipe away painful memories of Affleck leaping rooftops in red tights as Daredevil or stinking it up in Jersey Girl.
Chiseled down, bulked up and bursting with a fiery, I-may-not-be-Matt-Damon-but-I-still-got-skills screen presence, Affleck seizes the moment and re-establishes himself as a lead actor capable of carrying a film. And his dark horse Oscar-caliber performance as Doug, the ringleader of a Boston bank robbing gang melds as part of an elite commando force. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is smoothly authoritative as an Inspector Javert-like FBI agent who tracks the gang’s every move.
Jeremy Renner brings a block-headed toughness as Jim, Doug’s best friend/sidekick who’s bitterly protective of his trashy single-mom sister (Blake Lively), but not protective enough to keep Doug from stomping all over her heart. And Chris Cooper is chilling as Doug’s bitter, incarcerated father.
The only weak point is Rebecca Hall, who does what she can in the thankless role as Doug’s oblivious girlfriend, who also happens to be a hostage the gang seizes in the opening-sequence robbery. It’s a dopey, contrived character who is little more than a device to infuse Doug with some humanity.
The character is unnecessary because Affleck’s torrid storytelling and heartfelt acting make it easy to root for him and his brilliant-yet-ignorant cronies as they pull one ill-advised heist after another, begging for Hamm and his rules-bending gang of feds. The cat-and-mouse game succeeds despite its predictability, thanks much in part to the authenticity of the setting. The dialect, distinctive slang, Beantown delivery and distinctive city architecture meld together to create a tapestry reminiscent of the scary-yet-invigorating Bostons of The Departed and Good Will Hunting.
There are two or three jaw-dropping car chases in the movie, one of which Jim punctuates with the line “Now that’s how you f**k-n’ drive a car.” Affleck shows this is how you f**k-n’ direct a movie.
Starring Ben Affleck, John Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively. Written by Ben Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on a book by Chuck Hogan. Directed by Affleck. 125 minutes.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.