"The Town" (***-125 minutes)

Tuesday September 14, 2010

The town referred to in the title is Charlestown, identified at the outset as a Boston neighborhood with the unique distinction of having more bank and armor car robberies in one square mile than anywhere else in the U.S. Armed with that tidbit of information we immediately are thrust upon a bank robbery about to take place. The perpetrators are a gang of four and, with precision skill, we quickly recognize that these guys are quite adept at their occupation.

During the course of the bank robbery, they take the bank manager hostage and later release her. When the leader of the gang, Doug MacRay (Affleck), who has that heart of gold, finds out the hostage lives in their hood, he takes it upon himself to check her out. Soon the cops and robbers theme, takes a turn into romance and personal redemption. Added in are two more heists that turn into increasingly major gun battles. The last, staged at Fenway Park, is so ridiculously unrealistic that my eyes haven't stopped turning in their sockets.

Based on Chuck Hogan's 2004 novel "Prince of Thieves" (which won the 2005 Hammett Prize for excellence in crime writing), Ben Affleck follows up his Boston-based directorial debut, 2007's "Gone Baby Gone", with this gritty crime drama in which he also stars & co-wrote (along with Peter Craig & his Gone Baby Gone co-writer, Aaron Stockard).

The film should please the most ardent popcorn-loving crowd. Although I do not count myself as one of them, there is much to admire here. First is the acting by some of Hollywood's finest talents. At the top of that list is last year's Oscar nominated Jeremy Renner from 2009's AA Best Picture "The Hurt Locker". His role here as the hotheaded Jem, Doug's childhood friend & partner, is a volcano ready to explode. His performance proves his best acting nomination last year was no fluke-and could put him on the nomination list again. His total immersion in his character made me squirm while watching him in my seat. As the bank manager, Rebecca Hall (wonderful in Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and this year's "Please Give") perfectly portrays the roller coaster emotions she experiences. As the FBI agent pursuing the robbers, Jon Hamm (best known for his TV work in "Mad Men") is totally believable and is the perfect foil for the gang. Blake Lively gives a commendable performance as Jem's sister, a lady who still has the hots for MacRay. In addition, there is an all too brief wonderful performance by the great Chris Cooper as Doug MacRay's dad, currently living out his days in prison.

Also positive is the look and feel of the locations, which hometown boy Affleck knows all too well (although the Boston Irish accents are so thick in spots that I wished that subtitles were provided). And the soundtrack by David Buckley & Harry Gregson-Williams perfectly complements the action.

The main problems: the film needs some serious editing. Cutting at least 20 minutes would have made it tighter. Also, those action sequences, although expertly staged, go way over the believability scale for my tastes. The last shootout at Fenway Park, as I mentioned above, is practically science fiction and takes away from everything that preceded it. And, of course, we have that usual Hollywood ending that neatly wraps up the 2 hours but ultimately left me cold and disinterested.

So put me down for a 2 1/2 star flick that elevates to 3 stars due mainly to the incredible acting Affleck gets out of his cast, as well as the overall production values on the screen. Just be certain you have enough popcorn to get you through the 2 hours.

The gang of four (l to r): Jem (Jeremy Renner), 'Gloansy'
(Slain Jenkins), Desmond (Owen Burke), & Doug (Ben Affleck)

Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) tries to get Claire (Rebecca
Hall) to cooperate

Krista (Blake Lively) & Doug (Affleck)

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