One can only wonder how much better the bucks, if it had kept “Prince of Thieves,” the title of the 2004 Chuck Hogan novel and source of the Peter Craig, Ben Affleck Aaron Stockard screenplay adaptation.
The real power of the film is not in the title or even the screenplay, but in the nail-biting heist and car chase scenes, which surpass what’s become routine in action movies. The brilliant car choreography here shows that Affleck could give up acting entirely and make a good living as slam-bang producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s second unit director.
The film’s weakness lies in the story premise. Career crook Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads his motley crew on a major stick-up of an upscale bank in Cambridge outside their own gritty Charlestown section of Boston. Disguised in Grim Reaper masks, the robbers coerce pretty bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) to open the safe, then take her as hostage to ensure their escape. Before she’s blindfolded, Claire catches a glimpse of a small tattoo on the neck of one of the robbers. He happens to be James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Doug’s best friend and near brother.
Doug takes a liking to Claire and seeks her out in the guise of getting info on the state of the robbery investigation, she being the star witness. Though sharp FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon “too handsome” Hamm) is hot on the case, it takes him most of the movie to connect Claire to Doug and his band of baddies. And this is while they continue their line of work, one time wearing monster nun masks for a bank job and another, dressed as cops to steal Fenway Park receipts.
Still, as good as he is at breaking the law, Doug wants out and hopes to fly into the Florida sunset with Claire and the audience is on his side.
Only a good director can make us root for the bad guy. Since we want Doug and company to rob our money and kill cops, Director Affleck can take his place beside Arthur “Bonnie and Clyde” Penn.