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Monday, Sept. 20, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck directs, stars in tense crime drama

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The bank job at the start of The Town is swift and violent, cunning and chaotic. The robbers sweep into the bank wearing black hooded capes and Halloween masks, waving assault rifles and knocking employees down in a profanity-laden assault. The nervous assistant manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), fumbles with the combination to the vault. One of the more psycho robbers threatens mayhem if she doesn’t hurry, but a calmer voice advises her to breathe and stay focused. The gang takes her hostage on the way out, snatching her driver’s license and leaving her blindfolded on the beach. They know where she lives, and if she talks to the cops, they will come and get her.

Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves by director-star Ben Affleck, The Town is a tense crime drama with an interesting psychological twist. The brains as well as the heart of the gang, Doug MacRay (Affleck), decides to follow Claire, maybe even warn her off. But instead of giving her a scare, he falls in love. She becomes his vision of a different life.

The Town’s Boston setting provides a basis for romance across the class divide. The gang lives in the blue-collar Charlestown district and crime has been in their families for generations. Claire is a young professional in a gentrified corner of the neighborhood. The film doesn’t explore the cultural-social chasm between Doug and Claire, but it does show a few examples. Doug is a smart guy and pretends to be at home with Claire in a trendy café when his true habitat is actually a dingy bar with the trashy, drug-addled sister of one of his mates. The FBI investigation into the robbery threatens to draw Claire into the net, and the neighborhood wiseguys will use her as a pawn. Doug wants out, but any measure of redemption will be hard won.

As in most archetypal crime stories, there is that one last big job that will free the perpetrators from financial need. In The Town, it’s a daring assault on the cash room at Fenway Park. Smashup car chases have become an expected element in Hollywood heist movies and TheTown delivers a decent one along the winding, narrow streets of Boston’s old quarter. But unlike many recent entries in this field, the film depends on fully alive role-playing and sympathetic lead characters caught in a quandary. Affleck shines as a thug with a conscience under his three-day stubble and Red Sox jacket, and delivers a well-paced action drama making good use of its Boston setting.
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