An effective voice over lays the groundwork in this bank robbing drama. Ben Affleck is Doug MacRay a Charlestown Thug and bank robber. The opening to the movie has him and his crew robbing a bank in Harvard Square Cambridge MA. Locals are pulling their hair out at this point knowing how impossible this would be, but lets suspend disbelief. It is a long way from Charlestown but hey its a movie, whatda want? They are seen as professionals who really know what they are doing, precise and on top of everything that can happen they get the vault and the drawers before taking the banks assistant manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage in case they have any trouble since she set off the silent alarm. They get away and don't hurt her. They leave her at the beach blindfolded and made to walk out until she felt water on her toes. It is a frightening experience we learn from her later.
Another of the four robbers, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is easily displayed as a hot head in the group. He is a guy who will kill someone if need be. In the opening robbery he is very recognizable even in the identical reaper masks the crew wear. He will be the antagonist to Ben Affleck's protagonist. They are lifetime friends and much water has passed under their relationship bridge. The film does a great job not only establishing their connection but also dribbling out the more significant pieces of the their friendship allowing the audience to build an understanding of why they are so tight. It is really a fine job of screenwriting they way the interpersonal information is constructed. Later when the Renner character comes across Doug and Claire on a date there is a great scene of how silence can be used to create tension. They have another well written conversation where Doug, Claire and James are chit chatting outwardly while behind the conversation Renner and Affleck are dueling. I am getting ahead of myself here though back to the early part of the story.
Doug is the father of a child with James' sister Krista. She is a local girl dealing drugs and using but really would like it if Doug showed more interest in her. Blake Lively's portrayal of Krista was a bit heavy on accent but fairly well done.
Doug keeps Claire's license and the group is worried because she is living just blocks from their neighborhood. She is not a "Townie" but now lives there. So Doug follows her to try to see if she is a threat. Claire definitely could be a problem too, she is indeed talking to the FBI. The coincidence of her residence naturally has the feds concerned. Doug tries to meet her and then starts dating her so he can learn what she knows. At the same time the head investigator shows an interest in her personally. It is a very interesting duel storyline they play at here and if the FBI agent Adam Frawley's (Jon Hamm) side of it was a bit stronger it would have been even better.
The relationship between Doug and Claire is the main feature outside the heist storyline. They get to know each other and share their lives, it is well defined and shows their growing connection. A great scene is when Doug and Claire are talking about Claire's experience in the robbery. She talks about how she had to walk to the water and that it was such a terrible frightening experience, Doug gets to say he is sorry with different meaning for him than the meaning Claire takes it for. Again really well done. He does learn though that she saw a tattoo which makes her a witness if they are caught. So there is a growing dilemma for him, does he continue to protect her as his personal feelings grow. There is a big risk in doing that but he is having feelings for her.
So the guys start setting up another job, James is pushing for things to happen more quickly, and Doug is trying to slow him down. More careful planning is needed before the next job. The relationship card is played by James, at this card we don't know why Doug pushes the planning even though he knows things are too risky but he does just that.
Things could have gone very smoothly but the FBI are not sitting on their asses either. They have figured out that the casing of the bank jobs is being done by a townie working for the electric company. So they are starting to close in and when the job on a armored car goes somewhat wrong with James shooting one of the guards the feds are nearby to make it a really close call. Again in a fine piece of writing we are lead to believe that the guys are going to be caught but at the last moment we learn that Doug has planned for the chance of a chase. It is a tight action sequence in the narrow streets of the North End of Boston. The execution is just wonderful and the editing excellent.
Everyone who reads this should finish this review and then head out to the theater to see this film. So with that in mine let me give just the briefest of story outlines. Doug and his crew are building towards one final job. At which point Doug is moving out. The older boss Fergie Colm (the excellent Pete Postlethwaite) who will set up the job has been receiving payments from the crew after each of the smaller jobs. By the time this job is ready though Doug is ready to be out. We get some excellent revelatory dialog between Doug and James. We learn about connection in Doug's personal life that we had not known and we get to see the FBI building towards catching the crew and why James served 9 years in prision. The final job at the most beloved Boston location is an excellent sequence that climaxes in ways you could not expect. The happy ending is a bit much but I think most members in the audience loved it.
In the end the story is just a fine example of tight, effective screenwriting. Affleck does an exceptional job directing and the acting is great with Renner shining through. Go see this film so far the highest rated of the nominees reviewed here.
Rating (8.7) 5.0 and up are recommended.