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With his second feature, “The Town,” Ben Affleck acquits himself much more honorably as director and actor than as co-writer, showing greater and smoother facility with the film as a medium, as far as grounding the tale in authentic detail, pacing and editing, and coaxing strong performance from his largely male ensemble.

But, alas, what begins as an idiosyncratic crime-policier, steeped in specific details, increasingly gets more and more conventional as far as the central character’s transformation, the love story, and resolution are concerned.

World-premiering at the 2010 Venice Film Fest and playing at the Toronto Film Fest this weekend, "The Town" will be released by Warner on Sep 17.


To be fair, the story of "The Town,” based on the novel “Prince of Thieves,” by Chuck Hogan, and adapted to the big screen by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, is not as intriguing and compelling as Affleck’s similarly-themed film, “Gone Baby Gone.”   More specifically, the romantic subplot between Affleck and Rebecca Hall, which occupies a good chunk of the narrative, turns the picture into something else–a more conventional and routine saga about personal redemption.
That said, I still recommend that you see “The Town,” yet another panel to the growing body of crime films set in Boston, which by now includes Clint Eastwood’s "Mystic River,” Scorsese’s "The Departed," and Affleck’s own “Gone Baby Gone.” Set in Charlestown, Massachusetts, “The Town” serves as a good companion piece to all of the above, plus James Mangold’s “Copland,” starring Sylvetser Stallone and Robert DeNiro, which was about a self-contained neighborhood of cops (good and bad ones).
From the start, we become aware of the vast disproportion between the geography of the locale, only one square mile in size, and it social psychology, that is long-enduring tradition of crime. “The Town” takes its point of departure the fact that there are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year, most of which executed by a small group of thieves.
Though the site’s towering landmark, the Bunker Hill Monument, commemorates the famous Revolutionary War battle, the town's recent wars have been urban and “internal,” endless fights between cops and robbers, detectives and thieves.

Director Ben Affleck cast himself well as the lead, Doug MacRay. Though MacRay appears to be one of the typical local men, but he is not cut from the same cloth as his fellow thieves. Unlike them, MacRay once had a chance at success, an opportunity to escape the doomed fate of following in his father's criminal footsteps. Instead, however, he followed tradition and became the leader of a crew of ruthless bank robbers, who pride themselves on taking what they want and getting out clean.

The only family Doug has are his partners in crime, especially Jem (Jeremy Renner, who was Oscar nominated for Bigelow's Iraq war thriller “The Hurt Locker”). Despite his dangerous, hair-trigger temper, Jem is the closest thing Doug ever had to a real biological brother. However, things change dramatically during the gang's last job, when Jem took a hostage: bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall, who made a strong impression in Woody Allen’s comedy, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”).
Upon discovery that Claire lives in Charlestown, Jem gets nervous, needing to find out what exactly she might have seen an heard. For his part, knowing what Jem is capable of, MacGray takes full charge, and that’s when the movie’s story begins to go wrong.
MacGray seeks out Claire, who has no idea that their encounter is not by chance or that this charming stranger is one of the men who had terrorized her just days before. All too predictably, the relationship with Claire deepens into a passionate romance.
All along, MacGray has wanted out of this life and out of the town. But with the Feds closing in and Jem questioning his loyalty, he realizes that getting out will not be easy, and, furthermore, it might put his beloved Claire in the line of fire. While he previously believed that he was in control and have some alternatives, it now become clear that he has only one choice—and a crucial one at that: He can betray his friends or lose the woman he loves.
On the surface, “The Town” is heist movie, but, essentially, the story is about man who feels occupationally stuck and emotionally stifled in a place he doesn't want to be, needing to change his life radically—and quickly,
Context plays a major part in the narrative, and Affleck the helmer is very proficient in showing the impact of MacRay (and the other guys) roots on their current behavior, the gloomy, inescapable influence of the past on their very present.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, novelist Hogan situated the crime drama in Charlestown, because that specific Boston neighborhood has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other single square mile in the U.S. As the site of a maximum-security prison, Charlestown has become a self-perpetuating criminal enclave, sort of a revolving door. Men go to prison and their families move there, and then, as the men get out and go back in, a peculiar community, with its own subculture of values and mores, developed around it. Put differently, robbing banks became an acquired trade, passed down from one generation to the next, with the sons often paying for the sins of their fathers.
In the end, it could be that, thematically, "The Town" is trying to do too much, be an exciting dramatic thriller about robbers and cops, a compelling tale of friendship, loyalty and betrayal, and a romantic story of the power of love, hope, and a morality tale of redemption.