September 25, 2010

The Town

The Town is the kind of intense, gritty cops-and-robbers drama that has flooded television networks, but because of its ballsy, brassy energy, it commands our attention more than something we might catch while flipping channels. Here was I, so eager to banish Ben Affleck to that circle of hell reserved for actors who make movies like Gigli, and then he comes along with The Town. It's not the kind of movie for needless hyperbole. It's simply a gripping movie that succeeds in getting us to feel sympathy for the bad guys. There's never a moment when we want the main character, Doug McCray (Affleck, who also directed and co-wrote), to get caught by the relentless FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who's determined to see him die in prison.

When McCray develops a romantic relationship with a former hostage (Rebecca Hall), he decides to give up the dangerous criminal life he's led for so long. But walking away from a career of bank robbing isn't easy when there are other parties involved. The conflict isn't very original, but fresh-faced Hall makes it believable that McCray would want to leave his criminal life behind. Jeremy Renner, who turned in such a strong lead performance in The Hurt Locker, commands the screen in every scene he's in as one of McCray's cohorts, the one who's unhinged and trigger happy (partly because he's served nine years of his life in prison).

The movie is surprisingly funny even in the midst of the most horrific circumstances. Renner has the look of a mad genius, and Affleck is cocky but cool: he always has one more trick up his sleeve and is bolstered by a unique ability to keep calm in any event. Hamm, who doesn't take any crap from anybody, has a natural light-heartedness (seen more fully in his 30 Rock appearances) that mixes unexpectedly with his stern good looks.  Also starring Blake Lively, Owen Burke, Pete Postlewaite, and Chris Cooper.

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