Ben Affleck and Co. shine in Boston crime thriller “The Town”

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By Caitlin Gardner

Maybe Ben Affleck’s true calling was behind the camera, but even that is selling him short in The Town.

Affleck displays remarkable discipline in directing, playing the lead character, and co-writing.

His character, Doug MacRay, part of a criminal crew in Boston, wants out of the business of bank robbing after already blowing two chances to get out as a professional hockey player.

He promises himself that the next robbery is the last. But in Charlestown, a neighborhood notorious for its robberies, it seems far-fetched.

It is especially far-fetched when MacRay’s best friend Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner) is a fiery, unpredictable operator with two strikes on his rap sheet and the crew under the thumb of Fergus ‘Fergie’ Colm (Pete Postlethwaite), a flower shop owner and an unrelenting crime boss who destroyed Doug’s family years before.

The film begins with what is a usual bank robbery for Doug’s crew.  Jem forces the crew to take the bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage, much to the chagrin of Doug. He leaves her blindfolded on the beach, only to find out that she lives four blocks away from his home.  Jem wants to intimidate the already shaken Claire from outing them to the feds, but Doug, mindful of Jem’s two strikes, takes charge and uses his charm to get a date with her to find out what she knows.

Doug is not only attracted to Claire but finds they have more in common than their neighborhood, and believes she is his ticket out of Charlestown.

Meanwhile, the FBI team (led by Jon Hamm) is trying to find anything that can lead them to nailing Doug’s crew. The search leads to impressively shot car chases and gun fights.

That is all well and good, but some of the best scenes entail simple dialogue among the characters that often clues the audience in to what is going on before some of the characters.

Between the action and the dialogue, The Town is both tense and gripping.

This is smart directing on Affleck’s part, but he also gives a nuanced performance.

The whole cast is good, even Blake Lively as Jem’s sister, and Doug’s ex-girlfriend Christine is commendable in her limited screen time.

The cast member who really shines is Jeremy Renner as Jem. While the rest of the cast is very disciplined with an undercurrent of intensity, much like Affleck’s directorial touch, the unpredictability and ferocity of Jem Coughlin harkens back somewhat to Renner’s breakthrough performance in The Hurt Locker.  Jem Coughlin is somebody you both want on your side and somebody you do not want within a hundred yards of you.

The Town is by no means perfect.  There are a few loose ends and lack of closure with at least one character.

Its ending may underwhelm some fans of the crime film genre.  But the ending works thanks to Affleck’s discipline both in front and behind the camera.

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