Affleck wows with ‘The Town’

Heist movies were in vogue this summer, and Ben Affleck proved he could roll with the best in directing his new drama/thriller “The Town.”

The story: a group of veteran thieves take a bank by force and kidnap a manager to insure a safe escape. They quickly find out that the manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), lives close to the group’s homes and in an effort to protect her, the lead criminal, Doug MacRay (Affleck) makes it his business to keep tabs on her.

The unlikely couple falls in love as the FBI closes in on the group.

Meanwhile old school thugs force them to carry out a robbery on the Boston sports mecca, Fenway Park.

Tough-guy Jeremy Renner steps into the role of Doug’s violent, homicidal and altogether scary second-in-command, Jem.

Renner was by far one of the best people to watch throughout the film. He disappears into his role as the maniac bent to eliminate any witnesses and risks of jail time.

Renner’s acting is arguably one of the best aspects of the entire movie. If there was an outstanding individual performance, it was Renner’s.

Jon Hamm, from famed TV show “Mad Men,” plays the FBI agent chasing the thieves.

For being static and teamed up with a cardboard sidekick, Hamm’s character, agent Frawley, is a lot of fun to watch.

He is slick and clever and knows how to apply the right amount of leverage on suspects to start giving up the robber quartet. There is not a single moment he slips up in the film’s 125 minutes.

Hall does a laudable job as well. She’s the only manifestation of hope in this dark, gritty tale about people doing terrible things to get ahead in life.

But characters cannot be the only driving force behind a movie. A strong screenplay and story need to be in place, and “The Town” is above- average om both rights.

Believe it or not, the story is actually based on the book “Prince of Thieves,” by Chuck Hogan.

There is plenty of strong dialogue throughout the entire movie and there are no audible hiccups in this extremely smooth script.

Looking at the plot though, “The Town” does not offer anything new.

Sure, the characters are great, but in general, “The Town” follows a simple heist movie equation where the rogue thieves are chased by tough Feds and have to overcome infighting and controlling mobsters.

Probably the biggest problem with the plot was that there could have been a lot more done with the character of Claire.

Having a character recognize her assailants and end up dating one of them is really interesting. A perverted form of Stockholm syndrome sort of sets in, and it would have been amazing to see Affleck and the screen writers toy with that a little bit more than they did.

Even by further playing up the tension between Jem and Doug in regards to their potential federal witness would have been enough.

All these interactions are captured by a tight camera with a gritty filter. Long panoramic shots are kept to a minimum, making the viewer focus on the characters and the intensity of the action in the crowded streets of Boston and Charlestown, the seedy neighborhood that many criminals call home.

A friend pointed out to me that the camera’s grittiness eases up when Claire is included in different scenes. Subtlety is something to be valued in film.

Those little bits of production value and attention to detail put “The Town” so much further ahead of typical action flicks.

In the end, the problems with “The Town” are not enough to discourage spending the cash to see it. Its production values are better than the average “produce it, put it on the screen and forget about it” movies that most producers are so fond of.

I contend that the film is worth seeing for Jeremy Renner’s performance alone, who is slated to be in the new “Mission Impossible” sequel (because Tom Cruise needs an action, “Rocky”-esque saga to complete before he gives up)  and the new “Avengers” Marvel comic book flick.

If Affleck continues to make great films like “The Town” he might just become a hallmark in the next decade’s movie scene.

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