At least two films opening right now are directed by actors starring in their own movies – Ben Affleck’s The Town and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Jack Goes Boating. And while actors directing themselves is not exactly the same as writing their own reviews about their movies, that dubious notion of self-criticism, or more likely the lack of it, can come pretty inadvisably close.
Though when comparing the two productions, The Town would seem to be less ego driven, with Affleck decidedly deferring to story and action over personality, and just plain acting out. And with the thematic distinction that while Hoffman prefers to go boating, Affleck goes bank robbing. With a vengeance, and then some.
The Town is adapted from the Chuck Hogan novel, Prince Of Thieves, but stakes its narrative in the claim of three hundred bank robberies in Boston every year. And the Beantown neighborhood where the film is set, Charlestown, as a tiny turf producing more bank robbers than anywhere else in the country.
Affleck is Doug MacRay in The Town, one of those hotshot bank robbers into rather creatively conceived heists involving elaborate disguises likely gleaned from Halloween clearance sales. Whether donning cadaver costumes, pretend cops in shades or masked nuns with guns, these co-conspirators intending to scare the tellers into submission in part with their freaky fashion sense, are less Bonnie and Clyde than the Addams family.
And when one bank hit gets a little chaotic, the gang grabs manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) as temporary hostage for a secure getaway, then dumps her on a beach later. But when Doug runs into her by chance at the local laundromat, he’s instantly smitten in a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome, though she hasn’t a clue. And what starts out as surveillance in the guise of pretend dating to keep tabs on Claire’s meetings with FBI busybody Agent Frawley (John Hamm), soon blossoms into cross-cultural romance.
Which leads Doug to develop a disdain and serious urge to part ways with his neighborhood roots. Including dumping infatuated childhood sweetheart Krista (Blake Lively), a lanky, gum chewing tattooed barlfy wouldn’t you know it, and her homicidal maniac brother and Doug’s best buddy, Jem (Jeremy Renner).
Of course Doug’s break with this long cultivated surrogate family is a predestined no-brainer, given their unappealing caricatured personalities in contrast to the cultivated and refined alluring bank manager. Though Affleck had the good sense to step aside and let Renner flaunt his on screen psychopathic gift for killing people with relish, an impressively stylish stunt throughout with scary intimations of James Cagney.
But Affleck, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is clearly into the more fairy tale leaning side of this story. Namely, the class conceit of the prince in question, as a determined makeover from the frogs, or rather thieves, on the crude lower rung of the food chain. And rising up in aspiration to the supposedly more elegant and ethical middle class, as represented in the film by the yuppies invading and gentrifying the once solidly blue collar Irish neighborhood.
And while Affleck has perfected a gift for breathlessly paced action and suspense in a crime thriller, the business about a well heeled female financial maven falling for a construction worker, or vice versa, is best left to the stuff of satire, as in Knocked Up. Not to mention those bankers at the moment being tagged as the biggest crooks around, nearly bringing the national economy to its knees, rather than the street corner desperadoes.
2 1/2 stars