Movie News & Reviews

'The Town': Ben Affleck has an expert touch in this thriller

Rebecca Hall plays a bank employee and Ben Affleck is a bank robber in The Town.
Rebecca Hall plays a bank employee and Ben Affleck is a bank robber in The Town. Claire Folger

The robbers work with a confident, brutal and bracing efficiency. The same could be said of the director.

Ben Affleck's The Town is the work of a filmmaker with an eye for faces, an ear for dialect and a light hand on the editor's shoulder. It's the best heist picture since Heat. Affleck co-wrote the adaptation of a novel by Chuck Hogan.

Set in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, The Town is about a profession that has consumed generations there: bank robbery. Doug (Affleck) picked it up from his dad, who's in prison for life. His pal Jem (Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker) was born into the biz, too. Their crew knocks over the occasional armored car or bank. Not too often, mind you. They don't need the cash, or the hassle of the FBI getting close to them.

They splash bleach all over crime scenes, sweep up hair from barber shops to leave in their stolen getaway vans — which they then torch. DNA evidence? It'll be the wrong DNA. They're not geniuses. They're just drawing on generations of experience.

But one robbery puts Claire (Rebecca Hall of Vicky Cristina Barcelona) in their way. She's pretty, which Doug notices through his disguise. She's local. She works for the bank and tripped the alarm, which he hides from the others. And when they kidnap and blindfold her, he whispers, "No one's going to hurt you."

The feds, led by an intense Jon Hamm of Mad Men, can't get much out of her. Jem, a two-time loser, isn't in the mood to take chances. Doug isn't hearing it.

"She's already scared," he says.

"Maybe not scared enough," Jem spits back.

Thus an unlikely, far-fetched "relationship" begins between the still-traumatized Claire, who has no clue that this charming working-class Joe she met in a laundromat had once held a gun on her, and the good-hearted bank robber who has this great big lie hanging over his hopes for the woman of his dreams.

As unlikely as all this seems, Affleck makes it work. He can't resist the occasional personal confession delivered with the far-away eyes of a soliloquy, but the romance's bizarre nature never takes center stage. This is a movie about a milieu and the hard people who inhabit it.

Renner brings a Cagney-like short-guy/chip-on-his-shoulder intensity to Jem. Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) plays Jem's too-hot/too-stoned younger sister. And the great Pete Postlethwaite is the "florist" who sets up these robberies, and has for decades. Guys with thick Boston accents break down the code by which these men live: "Did his time like a man."

And the robberies, from the opener to the "one last job" that heist pictures have lived off of for decades, are as fast and furious as the real thing.

Best of all is the movie's sure sense of place. Affleck shoots chases through the narrow streets and tentative, romantic dates in the distinct, off-the-tourist track corners of the city.

It's a thoroughly involving, perfectly entertaining thriller that celebrates the rough edges of his Town without polishing them up.