Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard (Novel: Chuck Hogan)
Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper
R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use
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A crisp, energetic heist film represents another strong entry in actor-director Ben Affleck's oeuvre as filmmaker.
Affleck also stars as Doug MacRay, the son of an incarcerated bank robber (Chris Cooper), who has been pulled into the business alongside the man whose family adopted him when his father was sent to prison. James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is a fairly hardened ex-con who has become increasingly unstable and, after a violent outburst at the film's first bank job, Doug decides to take ownership of a mess they have gotten themselves into. The opening heist is chaotic, yet focused. You can follow the action with minimal effort and the excessive editing that often accompanies action films is left largely unused. During their hit, they take a hostage to ensure their safe escape. Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is their liability. Although she has not seen them, she may know enough to trip them up. So, they agree she needs to be followed, but Doug takes the duty from James whom he thinks will actually kill her if he discovers something amiss. While tracking her, Doug starts dating her and eventually falls in love.
The entire cast works well together, though there's nothing particularly otherworldly about them. They all deserve praise, but not too much of it. Affleck isn't the weakest link, but he's the easiest target for derision. His character isn't exactly the most deep or vocally aggressive, but he handles himself well against the more bombastic members of his group. Renner is strong as the temperamental, aggressive cohort, but it's a performance we've seen from him before, though perhaps a little less maniacal. Ever since he got his start in Dahmer, he's been an actor to watch and it's nice to see him get some recognition. Less impressive in his vulgarity and crassness, Pete Postlethwaite snarls his way through the film as the ring leader of the operation who doesn't want Doug leaving the group without his permission.
Despite having one of the more complicated characters on television, Jon Hamm has not been given much room to work on the big screen. His roles in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still and this year's The A-Team (also playing a special agent) suggest that he's not being taken seriously as an actor of range and, until he gets a more complex role than this, I don't really care much for him on film. Rebecca Hall is much better than I expected. She's done a lot of work in recent years, but everywhere I've seen her (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Prestige and Frost/Nixon), she's barely registered. Here she finally does and if she can stick to this kind of role or at least this quality of performance, she could have an excellent career. However, the one real achievement here is the strung-out single mother played by Blake Lively. Here's an actress who's clearly traded on her beauty for success, much like Megan Fox, but after this, you have to consider her a strong and capable actress. She wasn't bad in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but here she makes a name for herself and I really hope to see more like this out of her in the future.
But the film's real M.V.P. is Affleck as director who has taken a potentially negligible screenplay and turned it into a capable, engaging film. I really would like to see him grow into other genres, but with this and Gone Baby Gone, I'm hoping we'll get to see more and, unlike several of his less talented actor-turned-director compatriots, I hope he's recognized by the Academy for it...if he can keep it up.
December 27, 2010