Movie Review - The Town (****1/2)


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The Town.  130 mins.  R.  Directed by Ben Affleck.  Written by Peter Craig and Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard. Starring Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaith, and Chris Cooper.

I don't know what it is, but there's something immensely satisfying about Ben Affleck's career resurgence as a well-respected director.  I've always liked him, but there's no denying that Affleck went through a rough stretch for the better part of the last decade.  But now, here he is, following up on the success of his debut, the moody, morally ambiguous Gone Baby Gone, with another Boston-set crime story: The Town.  Affleck shows a ton more confidence this time around - not only does he direct and co-write, but he casts himself in the lead role.  Wise move - he succeeds smashingly on all counts.  As good as Gone Baby Gone was, this one's better.  The pacing is quicker, the scope is bigger, and it delivers the goods like few other studio pictures this year have done.

Set in the so-called "bank robbery capital of America" (for real), The Town takes the typical heist movie tropes and does wonders with them.  Affleck plays local hockey hero turned bank robber, Doug MacRay, who is quickly heading down a path that will see him in prison for life alongside his father (Chris Cooper).  He's the leader of a foursome of delinquent Charlestown "townies", who don masks (nuns, skeletons - though sadly, no ex-Presidents a la Point Break) and large automatic weapons to score big paydays from armored trucks and banks.  After taking a local bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage at the beginning, Doug starts to fall for her and tries to leave his criminal past behind.  But first, he's got to deal with his increasingly unstable best friend (the invaluable Jeremy Renner), the proverbial one last score, and a determined FBI task force, headed up by Jon Hamm (pleasantly un-Don Draperish).  
Affleck juggles all the elements of the story like a pro.  The action is taut and exciting - there's a standout car chase in the middle of the movie that takes place in the tight, curvy side streets of Boston, and an intense shoot-out in the corridors of Fenway Park at the end.  The movie only cost $30 million, but it plays like a much bigger budgeted action pic.  The romance between Affleck's and Hall's characters works, more so thanks to the performances than the actual scripted moments.  Affleck has a keen eye for location and casting (even in the small roles), which adds an important air of authenticity to everything.  He's also adept at directing actors - Renner is an unpredictable live-wire as the best friend.  I loved the scene where he interrupts Affleck and Hall at lunch - there's palpable tension in it (hide the tattoo!).  And Jon Hamm and Blake Lively stretch admirably from their established TV personas.
Though it can feel a tad overly familiar at times - I was often reminded of a less-epic version of Michael Mann's Heat - The Town is a worthy addition to the cops-and-robbers genre.  The ending is a well-earned crowd-pleaser, but I almost wish it wasn't; I wanted something darker, less optimistic.  But that may just be me.  Regardless, the majority of you out there are going to dig the hell out of this movie.  If you're wondering what's out right now that you should see, The Town has your answer.  One of the best of the year.

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