Four men in skeleton masks rush in, properly armed, efficiently menacing, and executing their roles with textbook precision. Viewers already know what the four men are all about, and what their intentions are, through the very first heist scene. Same goes for the film itself: the plot is predictable. Although we’ve been in this territory before, the solid script, commendable acting, and the right man quarterbacking the film, make most forgive the all-too-familiar story. We already know the outcome, but the characters are entertaining and engaging enough that we take the ride anyway, and we’ll know it was worth it to go down with them.
Affleck really lets Boston breath through celluloid, making the audience feel as if they’re revisiting their home town, even if they’ve never been to Boston. One could go so far as to say Affleck captures Boston in a somewhat similar way that Martin Scorsese plunges audiences in the mouth of New York. There is also an authentic feel to the procedures and tactics of the bank robberies, and I’m not just referring to the gun-play. When you watch it you believe that this is the most economic way to rob a bank, adding another layer of realism to the film. Affleck also sets the right pace, as it is quick enough to never lose the complete attention of even the most impatient viewers, but it’s never rushed, allowing for character arcs to flourish.
The story, based on the book Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, revolves around four professional bank robbers who are natives of Charlestown. Doug, played by Ben Affleck, is the front-runner of the team and Jem, played by Jeremy Renner, is Doug’s best friend and an aggressive live-wire. Doug falls in love with Claire, Rebecca Hall, who is the traumatized hostage of the first robbery of the film. Doug forms a relationship with Claire, who is unaware of his criminal activities, and tension builds to keep secrets hidden. Eager FBI Agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm of Mad Men, closes in on Doug and his team, problems arise and choices must be made. The theme of survival really burns through this story. Doug becomes so efficient at the game of survival that it becomes the only game he plays.
We don’t root for Doug to get out clean because we know he‘s doomed. Instead, we root for the small-lived hope that Doug will make it out clean with Claire in his arms because that hope is a redemption within itself. Affleck does a suitable job in the lead role, but Jeremy Renner as Jem Coughlin is the highlight. Jem is a volatile human being, but the film shows that no man is defined by one characteristic, as we see that Jem is a loyal friend. Renner’s exceptional performance molds Jem to be genuine, maybe even someone we have known before; a lost soul addicted to conflict.
In my book, Ben Affleck is 2 for 2 in the director’s chair, and will re-invent his career, as long as he continues to sit in that same seat.
The only true gripes I have with the film are one unbelievable part of a shoot-out, and the somewhat tacked-on ending. There are rumors of a different cut for the ending, but we’ll have to see if that ever surfaces. In addition, the film really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before.
Way of the Gun
Gone Baby Gone
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