Ben Affleck has an undiluted and special lover’s eye on Boston. This is not the typical Boston fan’s vision of Harvard, the Hancock Building and the Temple to Music. It is the heart and soul of Boston, based in the Charlestown district.
It may look terribly charming, but the pre-credits sequence tells us that more bank robbers come from here than in any other part of – well, almost anywhere. This means that the movie is saying this Irish neighbourhood’s poverty breeds crooks. How politically incorrect is that?
There are deeply loveable bits of this tall tale of four childhood friends who have seriously broken homes and lives but manage mainstream blue collar jobs and a few odd heists. As we join our anti-heroes, they are taking Rebecca Hall hostage after a bank job, with a tiny bit of gratuitous violence.
Ben, who plays a robber, but normally works in construction, falls in love with his hostage. The other guys don’t like it one bit. Pete Postlethwaite, donning a perfect Boston Irish accent, plays a criminal mastermind, who runs a florist.
Also in the good category is a very imaginative use of the magical Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Sports lovers will thrill to the behind the scenes glimpses of the iconic baseball ground. I hate baseball, but felt goosebumps at this.
The cops are onto our gang and the weak link in the wall of silence in Charlestown is Blake Lively, who is absolutely excellent as a washed-up drug abusing single mother. Is the baby Ben’s? We don’t know. But, sadly, we don’t care very much, because the plot is all about Ben.
That’s the weakness in this movie. As the police zero in on the folks who might have the technical savvy to have done the jobs, we lose sight of the early excellence of Ben’s vision. I looked at my watch three times. The people at Stratford Picture house were mostly here on the excellent freebie for members, but boy oh boy, the texting from phones went into overdrive, with lots of flickering lights.
The story loses you in the middle, before coming right back for a stunning set of twists and turns and a satisfying ending. You feel that Ben is trying to say something deeper here about poverty and exclusion. But he misses his target and it ends up being a pretty good movie about outsiders having more limited chances than insiders.
This is not a pedestrian movie. There are some big ideas which give you glimpses of how the Michigan Militia happens. And some of the performances are extraordinary.
Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Slaine all are really incredibly moving in their roles. Owen Burke and Chris Cooper excel themselves. There is much that is visually gorgeous and distinctive.
The bank robbery stuff has been done better in other movies. Patrick Swayze mastered this genre and his imprint is the ghost in the machine.
It will play terribly well with young men who feel there is no hope in mainstream life. It’s an outlaw movie.
The music is wonderful. And the story and concepts may stay with you a little longer than you want them to. Boston is one of the world’s great cities and it shines brightly as the separate actor here.