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The Town / *** (R)

Posted Tuesday, September 28, 2010, at 10:39 PM

(Photo)
Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner are partners in crime in "The Town".
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Ben Affleck, Written by Peter Craig and Affleck & Aaron Stockard. Based on the novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan. Running time: 124 min. Rated R (for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use).

Boston has become the hot town for Hollywood these days. It seems every big star is pushing to get their crack at that Boston accent. If you trace it back, this trend might be linked to Ben Affleck's Academy Award winning turn more than a decade ago for the screenplay of "Good Will Hunting". Now, Affleck is back, this time in the director's seat as well as co-writing and starring in the new crime drama "The Town". It is a pleasure to have watched Affleck mature as an artist, and with his directorial efforts here and for the previous "Gone Baby Gone", calling him a 'triple threat' may be considered an understatement.

In "The Town" Affleck plays Doug MacRay, a lifelong criminal from a family of criminals in an entire town of criminals. MacRay is from the Boston suburb of Charlestown; a city that this film claims has produced more bank robbers than any other in the world. MacRay is one of the best.

MacRay's best asset is his affability. It allows him to keep a low profile. He rules his crew with respect and a controlled and calm approach. The crew's newest member, James Coughlin (played by Academy Award nominee for "The Hurt Locker" Jeremy Renner), is MacRay's childhood friend and the loose cannon of the bunch. When Coughlin gets a little hot headed on a job, he takes a hostage, Clair Keesey (Rebecca Hall, "Vicky Christina Barcelona"). This is a "no, no" in MacRay's book. When Coughlin learns that the FBI has spoke to Clair after MacRay let her go, she becomes a liability.

Here's where MacRay's affability begins to work against him and the script begins to distinguish itself beyond other crime thrillers. He shadows Clair to see if she knows anything, or has told the FBI anything that could jeopardize his crew. He gets a little closer to her than he probably should and the two develop a romance. Their relationship is what occupies most of the film's running time. That and three incredibly thrilling heists that prove Affleck can direct taut and tense suspense along with great action.

Meanwhile, FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm, "Mad Men") is closer on the heels of MacRay and his team than it seems MacRay is aware. Frawley goes at them with a vengeance, although no real reason for his passion is given beyond the fact that it's his job. It turns out, however, that not only is MacRay all too aware of the FBI's tactics, but Frawley's real problem isn't figuring out who they are so much as catching them in the act. As this cat and mouse game began, I thought I was about to see a crook and crimefighter tale I hadn't seen before, and it's quite possible that such a yarn was in the shooting script, but the romance takes precedence over the cops and robbers angle.

This would've been discouraging without Affleck's wonderful performance as a man torn by his deep feelings for a new love and the criminal world that has invested as much, if not more, into him as he has into it. Everything he's ever known was this way of life. Coughlin has just returned from a prison stint. His dad (Chris Cooper, "American Beauty") is serving multiple life sentences for the same types of crimes. And his handler (Pete Postlethwaite, "Inception") is a cool tempered, but intimidating florist, who gives the impression that no one leaves his service despite his unassuming front operation.

Watching MacRay juggle all these loose strands while continuing to operate his crew under such close heat puts in my mind what it must be like to be a director/writer/leading actor on a major film production. Perhaps Affleck merely had to call upon his own life to conjure the emotion necessary for his role. Certainly being a family man on top of his triple threat duties added to his realization of a man who chooses his heart above duty.

"The Town" is not a perfect crime thriller. It eschews the more interesting elements of the chase between cop and criminal for more conventional elements of romance. But those elements it explores are done well. The realization of Ben Affleck as the complete filmmaker he is becoming has been one of the greatest gifts I've witnessed as a cineaste. This is an artist about whom I can definitely say; I can't wait to see what he does next.

"The Town" is currently playing at Galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.



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A Penny in the Well
ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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