As a bank robber who wants to go straight, Ben Affleck shines in "The Town," offering his best, most mature performance to date.
Jeremy Renner, fresh off his Best Actor Oscar nomination from last year's "The Hurt Locker," is terrific as well as a loyal and hyper-violent friend.
"The Town" is stocked with similarly strong performances, including Pete Postlethwaite as an aging Irish mob leader with a vicious streak, and Jon Hamm as a FBI special agent obsessed with capturing those responsible for the bank heists.
Clearly acting isn't "The Town's" problem. Neither is directing. Affleck, in his second directorial outing, follows up on the promise of his debut, 2007's "Gone Baby Gone."
Rather, it's the film's story that lets everyone down. Based on "Prince of Thieves: A Novel" by Chuck Hogan, itself an off-the-road exploration of the dualities of a criminal with a conscience, "The Town" proves to be more of the dime-a-dozen standard crime thriller, with long character pauses as surrogates to the novel's internal dialogue.
In fact, the film's most interesting character isn't even a person, rather a place: Charlestown, Mass.
Once predominantly a tight-knit bastion of working-class Irish, this Boston neighborhood is now wrestling with an invasion of upper-middle class outsiders. Charlestown also happens to be the bank robbery capital of the world, as we're told at the beginning of the film.
Affleck, who grew up in nearby Cambridge, knows the area well, and that knowledge spills out on almost every frame. He also, thankfully, keeps the accents in check. But what's missing from the scenery and oh-so-Boston dialect are answers.
Why is Charlestown such a hotbed for armed robbery? The Town only offers generalities as the culprit: socio-economics, drug addiction, and a generational quasi-trade passed down from father to son.
Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the embodiment of all of that. A local hockey hero who lacked the fortitude to make it in the big leagues, Doug is as blue collar as they come; he even breaks rocks for a living. And like his father, who's serving several life terms for manslaughter, drug addiction initially propelled him into armed robbery.
Doug has since beat the habit, and is having serious reconsiderations of his criminal ways, along with abandonment issues from his long-disappeared mother. But to truly change his ways requires a relocation out of Charlestown and to a new life in Florida.
This isn't so easy, not with best friend James (Renner) pushing him to organize one more grand heist, and a greedy mob boss threatening him if he doesn't follow through — even after a bank robbery results in a shoot-out with Boston police. The illogic of continuing such a reckless course of crime, given the circumstances, is puzzling.
"The Town" tries to twist things up with a complicated romantic subplot, as Doug has developed feelings for Claire (Rebecca Hall), the manager of the bank he and his crew recently robbed.
Claire was taken as a temporary hostage by Doug, until he and his crew made their getaway. She's still shaken up by the ordeal, and James is worried that she could provide critical information that would lead the FBI to them.
Doug volunteers to spy on Claire, and promptly falls in love with her, though she remains unaware of their previous encounter.
When Frawley discovers Doug and Claire's romance, he attempts to exploit it, as well as his past relationship with Krista (Gossip Girl's Blake Lively), who is bitter over losing Doug to Claire.
Somehow, this mostly works, until the clunker of an ending that steals from another popular movie — you'll know it when you see it — and mars an otherwise good film.
Despite its flaws, "The Town" is a worthy effort by the actors and director.
But as a routine crime thriller, this town offers nothing you haven't seen before.
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