The Town: Ben Affleck, Caught Between Redemption, Action and Hometown.
Directing himself as a verifiable big-movie lead after some time in supporting-actor Triple-A ball, director/star Ben Affleck models a full line of warm-up suits to play Doug MacRay, a second-generation blue-collar stickup man, brains of his four-man bank crew.
The setting is Charlestown, the square-mile majority-Irish Boston neighborhood that shares a peninsula with Cambridge, half-gentrified, still identified in the tagline as the "bank robbery capital of America." MacRay's crew is among the best—or the most theatrical, judging by their costume selection.
The Town is based on Chuck Hogan's 2004 novel, Prince of Thieves. In its first chapter, Hogan's book has MacRay "tearing off his jumpsuit as if he were trying to shed his own criminal skin." Already reconsidering the life he's living—he's AA-pledged, sipping soda while his boys get wrecked as always—MacRay finds more motive to change in his tentative relationship with Claire (Rebecca Hall), one of the Prius-driving yuppies who've started to rent up newly chic Charlestown. Unbeknownst to Claire, Doug's the same guy who recently stormed her bank and held her hostage; their affair begins as he follow-up-stalks her. Being a character study of a gifted, low-bred ne'er-do-well with dark secrets, redeemed by a clean middle-class cutie, it's easy to see the appeal of Hogan's novel for Will Hunting's co-creator.
Conspiring against Doug's regeneration are his on-the-block loyalties. There's Jem (Jeremy Renner), his best friend from second grade and lieutenant, increasingly a loose cannon on jobs, and Jem's sister Krista (Blake Lively), an Oxycontin-slinging slattern. And demanding more than apology for Doug's crimes is one Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), the head of an FBI bank-job task force, trying to find a crack in the Irish omerta.
Part of this is attempted through cocky-flirty interrogations of Doug's women, some of The Town's variously successful actor duets. The interclass Doug-Claire-Krista triangle is the stuff of High Sierra, Some Came Running...except that Lively substitutes runny eyeliner for yearning, while Affleck and Hall do not, as they say, set the screen on fire. Broad, stolid Affleck does more with macho pathos, goaded by Renner's shanty-Irish tough Jem, in-your-face with his squelched mug; he's fantastic ambushing Doug on a date, the smirking ghost of his Townie past. Also indelible is Pete Postlethwaite in the small part of neighborhood boss Fergie Colm.
The Town is a scrupulously location-scouted, aggressively BOSTON movie. Picturesque qualities aside, Boston's recent popularity as a location has, I suspect, much to do with its status as refuge for a viable street-tough urban poor—who're white, and more box-office bankable. Tallying up the films shot in, say, black Roxbury, won't take much time.
Clocking in at a heavy two hours, The Town does not end before Affleck wears a snicker-inspiring introspective beard. If for this alone, it misses on the big emotional gut-punch—but it's good enough at least that you wish it were better.
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