Who could have predicted, around the time an afro’d Ben Affleck was whipping ’70s slackers with a wooden paddle, that the guy would morph into a serious and respected director? A lot has changed since 1993’s “Dazed and Confused.”
Three years ago, Affleck delivered “Gone Baby Gone,” an impressive and surprising first directorial effort that earned Amy Ryan an Oscar nod. His sophomore feature, the crime drama “The Town,” is attracting early Oscar buzz after debuting at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month. On top of its critical praise, the film is looking to compete with Emma Stone’s teen-friendly “Easy A” for this weekend’s box-office crown. Not bad work for a guy who once had a reputation for being a beer-pounding meathead.
Here’s what the critics are saying about “The Town.”
“Affleck has cast himself in ’The Town’s’ lead role of Doug MacRay, a native of Boston’s tough Irish Charlestown neighborhood, which as an opening title card informs us, has produced more bank and armored car robberies than any place in the United States. Doug and his best friend, Jem (Jeremy Renner), are lifelong members of one of Charlestown’s most notorious and successful crews, a team that methodically goes about its thuggish business with a combination of workaday professionalism and swift, vicious violence. When the guys rob a bank and take a manager hostage, the episode sparks a series of events that leads Doug to question whether he’s ready to leave Charlestown’s tribal life of murder and mayhem. Meanwhile, he’s being pursued by an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) who’s determined to make the choice for him.” — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
“Affleck also seems more confident and at ease in the director’s chair this time around and less like the actor with something to prove. The film’s palpable authenticity is less self-conscious than it was in ’Gone Baby Gone,’ and Affleck is able to create a strong enough sense of verisimilitude to allow us to buy into the film’s unlikely premise.” — Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
“Renner and Hamm play stock characters, but their performances elevate the roles to something more. (Renner, as he proved in “The Hurt Locker,” is an especially convincing psycho.) [Rebecca] Hall is a fantastic actress, good in everything she does. She portrays perfectly the confusion and vulnerability of someone violated, as well as the hope one might find in a budding relationship. Of course, we know more than she does, which makes it all the more heartbreaking. But Affleck is the center of the film. His Doug is, in some respects, rather like Affleck — the director of the elaborate heists, as well as a performer in them…. It’s a measured, strong performance, certainly one of Affleck’s best. Perhaps he can credit his director.” — Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic
“There’s a decent movie in ’The Town,’ though this adaptation of the Chuck Hogan novel ’Prince of Thieves’ stretches out to a misjudged 130 minutes. Two hours plus change isn’t long, really. Plenty of films, and not just epics, justify three or more hours. Here, though, just when the screws should tighten, we get another leisurely dialogue scene, and hammy inevitables, such as the protagonist, played by Affleck, telling his less stable partner in crime, played by Jeremy Renner of ’The Hurt Locker': ’Ya been like a brutha to me.’ ” — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
The Final Word
“Affleck nails the rhythms of coexistence between neighborhood crooks and regular Joes. His instincts are also right in casting Renner in the role of Jem, the local baddie with a short fuse, and letting the effortlessly magnetic actor steer the pace of the action, hinting at danger even when Jem’s just nursing a brew. With the thrum of unromanticized eff-’em he brings to the part, Renner supplies the jolt that keeps Affleck on his toes, both as an actor and as a director. ’The Town’ is the good work of a guy on a path of discovery, with Boston as the artist’s own Freedom Trail.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
Check out everything we’ve got on “The Town.”
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