Characters lift ‘The Town’ to good, solid crime saga

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Reviewer
  • Monday, September 20, 2010 7:23pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Ben Affleck was wise to make his directing debut with a movie, “Gone Baby Gone,” that didn’t include him in the cast. He took his stalled acting career out of the equation and the movie could be appreciated for the impressive piece that it was.

But c’mon — the guy’s an actor. And, as an actor, he’s at the center of his second directing project, “The Town,” which like its predecessor is set in Affleck’s home turf, Boston.

The film informs us that the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston has spawned more armed robbers than any other community in the world; I don’t know whether this statistic comes from the Guinness Book of World Records or a writer’s imagination, but fine, we’ll go with that.

We understand, at any rate, that this is the criminal milieu that old friends Doug (Affleck) and Jim (Jeremy Renner) have grown up in. Together with a couple of pals, they’re knocking off Beantown banks and drawing the attention of a dogged FBI agent (Jon Hamm).

The aftermath of one job gets tricky when Doug befriends the beautiful bank employee (Rebecca Hall) he recently terrorized while wearing a mask. The movie dispenses, in a single self-aware joke, with the question of why she wouldn’t recognize his voice.

This dilemma opens into a wider portrait of the poisoned pond of Charlestown, including Jim’s floozy sister (Blake Lively, from “Gossip Girl”), Doug’s jailbird father (Oscar-winner Chris Cooper, in one hard-nosed scene) and a local kingpin known as “The Florist” (Pete Postlethwaite).

The movie’s got a lot of action to cover, with a roster of characters and three major heists to track, including a hold-up at Fenway Park, no less. At times you feel the material wanting to stretch out into a miniseries, but maybe the limited running time keeps it tight.

Affleck keeps his camera close to his actors, unless he’s staging a robbery. He and Renner (who nailed his big shot in “The Hurt Locker”) are suitably edgy without becoming self-indulgent, and Rebecca Hall (late of “Please Give”) finds surprising spunk in her character; she’s no wallflower, even if her character is underwritten.

Jon Hamm, the strapping “Mad Men” actor, gets a chance to flash a little movie-star oomph in his part. His blend of toughness and irony gives interest to what could have been a standard cop role.

“The Town” falls short of Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” in one important aspect. “Gone Baby Gone” left the audience with a genuine moral dilemma that could not be easily solved; this movie has a criminal protagonist who we’re frequently in the position of rooting for, without too many conflicting feelings. In short, a good crime saga, if not a great one.

“The Town” 3 stars

Ben Affleck directs and stars in this Boston crime saga about a bank robber who falls for a former hostage (Rebecca Hall). Meanwhile, we get a solid, well-acted portrait of a neighborhood where the problems go back at least a couple of generations. With Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm.

Rated: R for violence, language

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Guild 45th, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

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