Ben Affleck delivers one of his best performances in years as Doug MacRay of Charlestown, Boston. Doug is fearless and smart, and like De Niro's Neil McCauley in Heat, is into one last-jobism. Indeed, I felt so strong a kinship between Affleck in this movie and De Niro in Heat that I said to my wife that Affleck in The Town is like an Irish De Niro (and in fact, MacRay and McCauley would both have ancestors in the Emerald Isle).
Like McCauley in Heat, who matches wits with Al Pacino's Lt. Hanna, MacRay attracts the obsessive interest of FBI agent Frawley played by Jon Hamm of Mad Men. Hamm is no Pacino - no one is - but puts in a fine, intense performance in The Town.
My favorite scene in Heat - and this is easily among my top 10 favorites scenes in any movie - is when Val Kilmer's Chris drives up to see Ashley Judd's Charlene, who has been soft-talked by Mykelti Williamson's Sgt. Drucker to give Chris up to the cops - or so we think. Because in an incandescent moment, Charlene gives Chris a subtle warning sign from the window, and he drives away to safety. I still wanna be like Val Kilmer in Heat when I grow up.
Now The Town has a scene that's so parallel to the above in Heat that it can be considered an homage. MacRay calls Claire (well played by Rebecca Hall) with Frawley standing right beside her, urging Claire to turn MacRay in. (Claire was bank manager and kidnapped in an earlier job by MacRay and the gang. MacRay released her, went to see her - she didn't know then who he was - and the two just about fell in love. Then Frawley told her who MacRay was.) With every incentive to give up MacRay, Claire gives him a subtle heads-up. It's a sweet moment. MacRay was looking at Claire and Frawley through binoculars, so he knew what was up, but his smile when Claire came through for him was priceless.
Like Chris in Heat, but unlike McCauley in Heat, MacRay makes it to safety and out of The Town. And this greatly improves on the one thing I never liked about Heat: McCauley fell too easily to Hanna. I was glad to see MacRay do much better against Frawley.
Note added January 4, 2011: I didn't get a chance to mention the searing supporting role played by Pete Postlethwaite. Like all his acting, what Postlethwaite did in The Town was unforgettable. He passed away yesterday, but his memorable work will live on.
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