THE TOWN, directed by Ben Affleck, written by Peter Craig, Affleck and Aaron Stockard, 125 minutes, rated R.
After seeing “The Town,” Ben Affleck’s terrific follow-up to “Gone Baby Gone,” maybe it’s time to suggest that the actor give up his day job and turn to writing and directing full time. Although he stars in the movie and delivers one of the strongest performances of his wildly uneven career, that performance has nothing on his skills behind the camera and with the pen. It’s there where his true gifts rest.
What Affleck has on his hands with “The Town” isn’t at all what one would expect from the star of so many modern-day bombs — ”Pearl Harbor,” “Surviving Christmas,” “Jersey Girl,” “Paycheck,” “Daredevil” and the infamous “Gigli” chief among them. Sure, “Hollywoodland” offered a brief escape from all that hooey, but then came “Smokin’ Aces,” and it seemed as if Affleck’s career had gone up in smoke again.
Not so with “The Town,” which is, in fact, a mature, engrossing drama with the undercurrent of a thriller that features a script that bests his Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting,” which he co-wrote with friend Matt Damon. Here, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard join him as co-authors, and what all contribute is a movie that mines the essence of the town in question — Boston’s Charlestown — which reeks of havoc, desperation, danger and crime.
Working with cinematographer Robert Elswit, Affleck brings this disturbing slice of Boston into focus. His film is a wallow through a working-class neighborhood not known for the kindness of its people, but for the sheer number of bank robberies that take place there every year. In the United States, Charlestown holds the record.
In the film, Affleck is Doug MacRay, who works with three other men to pull their share of jobs. But when one job goes south and MacRay’s crew need to briefly take bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, the complications that ensue aren’t what audiences might expect. Through a series of believable events, the two enter into a relationship, even though Claire has no idea that Doug was one of the masked men who robbed her bank.
She falls for him. He falls hard for her. And now what are they to do, especially since a member of Doug’s crew, Jem (an outstanding Jeremy Renner), is insisting that they pull another job due to the pressure of a creepy local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite)? Worse, Jem demands that Doug leave Claire, who is working with an FBI agent named Frawley (Jon Hamm, proving he’s ready for a movie career) to find the men who robbed the bank.
With its surprising shifts and turns, “The Town” thrums with intelligence, suspense and, at least for Doug, a shot at another life. He knows that if he doesn’t get out of this town and this profession soon, he’ll wind up just like his father (Chris Cooper), who also robbed banks — and who now is serving time in prison because of it. But will his crew let Doug stop? And what to do with Frawley, who is closing in on all of them?
After “The American” and now “The Town,” it appears that a successful summer at the movies is giving way to a promising fall, where the real weight awaits in the shadow of awards season. If “The Town” isn’t forgotten as we move toward the new year, expect it to find its place during that season, where it might flourish.
So far, it’s among the year’s best movies. Grade: A-
On DVD and Blu-ray disc
When it comes to new releases on DVD and Blu-ray this week, forget about movies — you’ll see why below. Instead, turn to several television shows that are new to the market, such as the excellent first season of Fox’s “Glee.” For the two of you who haven’t heard of it, “Glee” is about a group of high school misfits who find themselves — and their voices — by joining the school’s glee club, which isn’t exactly considered cool by the popular kids at school. But to those who do join Glee, what they find when they’re not ducking Jane Lynch’s blows as the marvelously cruel cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester or having a Slushie hurled in their faces is a kind of liberation that almost keeps their hormones in check. The show isn’t slight. Instead, it tackles a wealth of issues facing today’s teens — divorce, sexuality, teen pregnancy, crippling low self-esteem, the death of a parent and crushes gone awry. That it does so with song, a sense of humor and a keen shot of drama makes it one of those shows that doesn’t just create a buzz — it owns the buzz. Also recommended are the fine second season of “Fringe,” a detective show with echoes of “The X-Files” that’s concerned with pop culture’s favorite topic du jour — the paranormal. Also look for the first season of “The League,” the second season of the detective show “Castle,” the first season of “The Good Wife,” the third season of “Private Practice,” and the funny third season of the comedy series “The Big Bang Theory.”
IRON MAN 2, DVD, Blu-ray
It’s a bloated, overhyped disappointment, especially when compared to the fun first movie. On paper, the sequel certainly looks promising. Robert Downey Jr. returns as the cocky, ultra-smart industrialist Tony Stark, whose alter-ego is well-known as Iron Man; Gwyneth Paltrow reprises her role as Stark’s kind-of, sort-of girlfriend, Pepper Potts; and director Jon Favreau himself appeares as one of Stark’s bumbling boobs. Joining them this time around are a group of actors who also offer a swirl of promise — Sam Rockwell as Iron Man’s nemesis, Justin Hammer; Scarlett Johansson in a dual performance best left discovered on the screen; Garry Shandling as a smarmy senator determined to get hold of Stark’s Iron Man suit; Don Cheadle taking over for Terrence Howard as Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes; Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury; and best of all, Mickey Rourke as Ivan Vanko, a mysterious Russian out to undo Stark because of the atrocities Stark’s father inflicted upon Vanko’s own father. Trouble is, when you add all of these characters to the film’s multitude of plots and subplots, the movie is so overstuffed, it can’t move. It’s all too much, so much so that the relationship you really want to see most come to a head onscreen — the fight between Iron Man and Rourke’s Whiplash — is sidelined because there are too many other matters to tend to, such as squeezing Johansson into her skin-tight leather dominatrix drag. The trailer promises audiences that Iron Man and Whiplash will have a go of it in this movie, and while they do, they only share the screen in two sequences, which sucks the movie free of the of white-hot tension it could have had. Yes, it’s still fun to watch Iron Man fly around while his alter-ego rips off the one-liners, and yes, the movie looks good in cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s capable hands, but there are other hands at work here — Favreau and writer Justin Theroux’s — and what they’ve done is choke so much life out of the franchise, it’s surprising that Iron Man’s suit doesn’t turn blue by the time the last of so many explosions roars onscreen. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s film reviews appear Fridays in Lifestyle, and his video movie previews appear Wednesdays in the Lifestyle section of bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.