Ben Affleck’s new film, “The Town,” oozes Boston flavor. The sophisticated crime thriller features nasal accents, the Bunker Hill Monument, a shootout at Fenway Park and local lingo such as “Toonies,” which is what natives of traditionally blue-collar Charlestown call newcomers who have gentrified their neighborhood.
Affleck is the director, co-writer and star, playing a thief named Doug MacRay who falls in love with a pretty bank manager (Rebecca Hall) after she’s held hostage in one of his gang’s stickups. Doug was a hockey star who had a chance to escape Charlestown before he became a drug addict and joined his buddies robbing banks and armored cars.
While he doesn’t want to end up like his career criminal dad (Chris Cooper), Doug’s ties to Charlestown, his best friend (Jeremy Renner) and a scary gangster (Pete Postlethwaite) who uses his florist business as a front make it hard for him to leave town and start over.
He’s also being hounded by an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) certain that Doug’s crew is responsible for a series of robberies, including the bank job where they wore Halloween-like skeleton masks. (They later don nun masks for a daylight street heist.)
Affleck grew up in tony Cambridge, a few miles away and a world apart from Charlestown. But in “The Town,” as well as his directing debut “Gone Baby Gone,” he displays a keen feel for the grittier parts of Boston.
The cast is equally authentic. Affleck gives one of his strongest performances as a tortured soul torn between his past and future. Renner, nominated as best actor at this year’s Oscars for “The Hurt Locker,” bristles with street toughness, Postlethwaite is terrifying and Cooper is brilliant in his only scene, a raw heart-to-heart talk with his son in prison.
The only disappointment is Hamm. So mesmerizing in “Mad Men,” here he’s just a straight-arrow G-Man without much personality.
“The Town,” based on Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince of Thieves, works as both a suspenseful thriller and a trenchant character study. Affleck, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, directs with a brisk pace, but also knows when to slow down and let the atmosphere seep in.
‘The Town,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: ***1/2
‘Leaves of Grass’
Normally, a double dose of Norton would be reason to celebrate. Here, though, it seems more like a stunt than a dramatic challenge. Tim Blake Nelson’s entire movie, in fact, has the whiff of a gimmick.
Norton plays an Ivy League classics professor and his twin, an Oklahoma pot grower in debt to a local drug kingpin. When the prof is told that his brother has been murdered, he returns to his hometown expecting to attend a funeral. So he’s stunned to find his sibling very much alive and plotting to use his lookalike as an alibi in a twisted crime.
The professor, who is estranged from his family and his country roots, is fond of citing great philosophers and writers. The pot grower, who thinks his brother has become a snob, is more interested in cultivating the purest, most potent marijuana in the land.
The contrast between the brothers quickly grows tiresome and the rambling Coen brothers-like plot is strained. Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss are saddled with caricatures, while Keri Russell plays a bright local who shares the professor’s love of literature.
“Leaves of Grass,” from First Look Studios, opens tomorrow in New York, Baltimore and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rating: *1/2
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(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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