x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The Town

Ben Affleck secures his reputation as a director with this gripping heist thriller.

From left, Slaine, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Owen Burke as bank robbers in The Town, a gripping heist thriller that confirms Affleck as a considerable directing talent.
From left, Slaine, Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Owen Burke as bank robbers in The Town, a gripping heist thriller that confirms Affleck as a considerable directing talent.

****

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Pete Postlethwaite 

While Casey Affleck was busy deconstructing his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix's celebrity in his controversial directorial debut, I'm Still Here, his older brother Ben was hard at work rebuilding his image with this gripping heist thriller - his biggest box office hit since the whole "Bennifer" thing blew up in his face.

Ben stars, directs and shares a screenwriting credit here, proving that his acclaimed directing debut, Gone Baby Gone, was no fluke. Adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, this is another Boston crime drama; you can take the boy out of Boston, but you can't take Boston out of the boy. Specifically, it is rooted across the bridge, in the blue-collar suburb Charlestown, home to the highest proportion of bank robbers and armoured car hijackers in the world - or so the movie rather improbably claims.

Doug (Affleck) is one of their number, born and bred into the life (his father is serving time) and the de facto leader of a gang who pride themselves on their efficiency. They certainly seem to know their business in the crisply edited opening, a bank job in which the masked crooks calmly microwave the security surveillance tapes and bleach down every surface before they make their getaway. Only one hitch: the hotheaded Jim (Jeremy Renner, from The Hurt Locker and Entourage) impetuously brings along one of the bank staff, Claire (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage. They ditch her without incident, but then realise she lives a couple of blocks away. Is she a threat? Doug steps up to check her out.

She doesn't recognise his voice, so there seems little danger - except that he falls for her, which doesn't go down at all well with Jim, and inevitably attracts the suspicions of the FBI's Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm, in his biggest movie role since the success of Mad Men). The plotting is largely off the peg. We've seen this story many times: the thief who is determined to go straight but reluctantly agrees to one last big score; the romance he daren't jeopardise by telling her the truth; the dogged cop's respect for a clever adversary and his determination to get his man.

Affleck keeps it rooted in reality ("authenticious", as one of the crooks puts it) while delivering the requisite suspense and excitement. But his principal interest is in the class barriers obstructing the love story. Claire is an outsider, and obviously middle class. In her, Doug sees an escape hatch from the dog-eat-dog life he's always known. The scenes between Affleck and Hall have a nice, easy flow and humour - you buy them as a potential couple, and it's good to see a thriller that's not in too much of a hurry to shortchange the character scenes. Among the supporting cast, Renner is a thoroughly convincing loose cannon; Blake Lively impresses as Jim's sister and Doug's sometime girlfriend, and Pete Postlethwaite turns off the charm as a vicious gangster known only as "the florist".

The Town may not be the most original thriller on the block, but if you like this sort of thing you'll leave the cinema happy. For a star who seemed to be on his way out, Affleck proves that he is still here, and may be approaching the top of his game.