Ben Affleck’s second stint in the director’s chair is another crime novel adaptation set in his home turf of Boston. Charlestown provides the required setting for a classic ‘going straight’ narrative where generations of Irish-American hard men naturally fall into a life of crime (or become cops). Doug MacRay, a reformed alcoholic, almost pro-hockey player and all-round sensitive bank robber becomes romantically involved with former hostage and bank manager Claire Keesey. When he is repeatedly draw into ‘just one more’ job, MacRay is caught between remaining a free man and pursuing a fraught relationship with Keesey who is in reticent collaboration with the FBI.
Following the favourable reception of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck has the confidence to take on the tricky dual responsibility of director and lead actor. It’s a flattering role from the outset: armed and wearing a Halloween mask, MacRay soothes a quaking Claire into opening the safe, makes sure she remains unharmed before stalking her (unmasked, obviously) and comforts her when she breaks down in a laundrette following the ordeal.
There is potential for an original perspective on MacRay’s criminal activities from the perspective of one of his victims but the film avoids such depth and settles for a more straightforward romance. Instead we are treated to strong emphasis on MacRay’s overpowering sense of devotion – he miraculously tracks down and attacks someone who threw a bottle at his one true love – and an only slightly gratuitous flash of Affleck’s torso mid-‘workout montage’. However, if anything this only proves Affleck has a functioning sense of his own marketability.
The same goes for Jon Hamm’s casting as FBI agent, Adam Fawley. The characterisation does little to challenge the stereotype and it is Hamm’s now familiar combination of poise and charm (and current popularity) that skims over the predictabilities of the script and lends credibility. Rebecca Hall’s performance is rather more two-dimensional however, as the idealised female lead in a film about a man who wants to be good through the ‘love of a good woman’. MacRay’s former lover Krista is similarly sketchy, a drug mule and incompetent mother whose reliance upon her sexuality leaves her easily manipulated and seemingly void of interiority.
However, what the film lacks in character development is somewhat compensated by an adept control of tension, especially the action scenes which are sufficiently complex and compact enough not to be monotonous in the way only gratuitous carnage can be. It’s not devoid of humour or irony either. For example, Pete Poselthwaite’s suitably gnarled countenance appears as ‘The Florist’, the green fingered warlord of Beantown or a solitary police officer’s deference when faced with four heavily armed nuns. For all the schmaltz, it’s a passable or at least engaging and highly commercial sophomore effort.