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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shells of a man

Ben Affleck cements behind-the-camera cred with thrilling heist flick

Posted on Thu, Sep 16, 2010 at 4:00 AM

****
The Town
Rated: R
Cast: Ben Affleck
Director: Ben Affleck
WorkNameSort: Town, The
Our Rating: 4.00

Ben Affleck's second directorial effort, The Town, builds upon the multi-hyphenate's behind-the-camera debut, 2007's Gone Baby Gone, and its crack at Bostonian character authenticity. This time it's not just the players that are the stars, but also the region. 

The Town mostly takes place in Charlestown, Boston, which the film tells us is the bank-robbery capital of the world. Affleck plays Doug MacRay, an expert robber whose skills at terror, planning and execution have been handed down through generations of familial crime. As per usual in this kind of tale, MacRay has a bigger heart than those around him, and he yearns to escape his Charlestown trappings. In a bravura opening heist, MacRay and his cohorts ' including The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner as a wild-eyed loose cannon ' storm a bank and manage to break into the vault with the forced assistance of a beautiful teller, Claire (Rebecca Hall). 

After the successful robbery, the FBI, headed by a morally questionable agent played by Jon Hamm, interviews Claire. She leaves out a couple of key clues to the robbers' capture, however, and we don't know why. Neither does she. MacRay's crew still needs to know what she knows, so MacRay follows her and quickly falls for her out-of-towner charms. They begin dating, MacRay tries to quit the family business and, with Hamm breathing down his back, all hell breaks loose. 

Affleck, also the film's co-writer, delivers a sturdy actioner with several set pieces that call to mind classics like Rififi, Bullitt and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although the plot chugs along at a deliberately mindful pace, hitting the 'last job� milestones along the way, The Town remains palpably tense and fascinating thanks to its keen eye (and ear) for its environment. I don't think I've ever seen Boston like this. Affleck finds its nooks and crannies and confidently places his camera within them, giving every scene a slightly skewed, alternate reality of America as a ripe breeding ground for lawless omertá, as Hamm's FBI agent puts it. 

From a pulse-pounding chase through Beantown's narrow cobblestone roads to an overwhelming shootout at Fenway Park to the natural robber's dialect that always points our eye at something we haven't considered ' armored cars have 'plunger� holes from which to shoot both in and out? ' Affleck's (and co-writers Peter Craig's and Aaron Stockard's) attention to detail allows the film to transcend its story's cliché trappings and deliver a thrilling entry in a long and storied history of cinematic heist flicks. And while it may not reach the absurdist heights of its forebears ' namely Heat ' it comes awfully close. 

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