[Screen It]


(2010) (Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall) (R)

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Drama: The head of a crew of bank robbers must contend with various issues, including wanting to get out of the business, being pursued by an FBI agent, and dating one of their former hostages who's unaware of his activities.
The Boston neighborhood of Charlestown is known for its high rate of bank and armed car robberies. One of the more prolific thieves is Doug MacRay (BEN AFFLECK), a once promising hockey player who could have used that career to avoid the same prison fate that befell his father, Stephen (CHRIS COOPER). Now, Doug works for his father's former boss, Fergus "Fergie" Colm (PETE POSTLETHWAITE), a florist who's really a criminal ringleader and drug dealer whose orders are enforced by his burly goon, Rusty (DENNIS McLAUGHLIN).

Along with Albert "Gloansy" Magloan (SLAINE) and Desmond Elden (OWEN BURKE), Doug's longtime friend James "Jem" Coughlin (JEREMY RENNER) makes up his crew and they've just robbed a local bank. During that, the volatile Jem decided they might need a hostage to escape, and thus kidnapped bank manager Claire Keesey (REBECCA HALL). She's released unharmed, but the crew worries when they realize she lives just four blocks from them. Although they were masked during the robbery, Jem views her as a potential threat, especially since she's now been interviewed by FBI special agent Adam Frawley (JON HAMM).

Knowing they can't afford to have Jem do anything that will put more heat on them, Doug takes the lead in figuring out what Claire knows and has told Frawley. Pretending to meet her by accident, he realizes she's probably little threat to blowing their cover, but doesn't expect to fall for her, especially since he has something of a relationship with Jem's sister, Krista (BLAKE LIVELY). As Doug and Claire end up in a relationship, he ends up torn between his current lifestyle and wanting something completely different, all as Frawley tries to find and stop him and his crew before they strike again.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Ever since people have possessed money or goods used as currency, there have been those who want to get their hands on it. Most do so the old-fashioned way of working for it. Others beg, some borrow, and the rest steal, with the latter realizing that the order of greatest potential payoff is individual, store and then bank (or armored car en route between those last two).

And pretty much since the beginning of the cinema (i.e. "The Great Train Robbery" from 1903), there have been movies about thieves and the law enforcement officers after them. Some take the traditional route of the cops being the good guys and the robbers the bad ones, while others have audiences rooting for the criminals (the "Robin Hood" or "Oceans Thirteen" sort of angle) and some even mix the two.

The latest to try its hand at the latter is "The Town," a standard-issue cops and robbers action-drama that marks Ben Affleck's sophomore outing behind the camera following his debut with 2007's "Gone Baby Gone." Like that solid start, this one's based on a prior novel -- in this case that's Chuck Hogan's 2005 work, "Prince of Thieves" -- and is set in the director's hometown of Boston.

Considering these most recent successes and Affleck's breakthrough work with "Good Will Hunting" (which also took place in Beantown), there might be a movement to permanently move the star back home, keep him behind the camera and thus let memories of the likes of "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon" and "Gigli" fade away. Apparently you can take Ben out of Boston, but you can't keep Boston out of him or, thankfully, his filmmaking.

That said, while the rising director -- who also stars and co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard -- seems more at ease with his scene composition and styling and is quite a bit more adventurous with his action than in his debut, I don't think the overall work is as strong as "Gone Baby Gone." Granted, some of that could stem from the source material (that I have not read), but whatever the case, the big issue is that the story isn't particularly fresh or novel and it has a glaring storyline element that serves as something of a distraction.

Regarding the lack of novelty, we have the ringleader (Affleck) with a troubled past (alcoholism, a strained relationship with his father [Chris Cooper in a strong extended cameo], etc.) who wants to get out of the criminal biz. But his volatile second-in-command (an electric Jeremy Renner) isn't pleased about that, nor is their crime boss (a terrific Pete Postlethwaite), while his troubled "girlfriend" (Blake Lively) isn't happy in general. And, of course, there's the "cop" figure played here by Jon Hamm (best known for his lead work in "Mad Men") whose performance is okay but really isn't much more than a stereotype since his character isn't fleshed out beyond his "catch the bad guy" goal.

The twist to the old tale is that the lead robber ends up dating his crew's former and briefly held hostage (Rebecca Hall) who doesn't recognize he's one of the bad guys who knocked off her place of work. Although that adds some tension to the mix (since we know Renner's character is going to blow a gasket upon finding out and Hamm's is going to put the squeeze on her to catch the robbers), it pretty much plays out both formulaically and predictably.

The big problem, though, is that we're never given any solid reason to believe Doug would endanger himself and his crew by becoming involved with Claire, knowing full well the FBI could likely be watching her. Sure, she's pretty (and not involved in criminal doings like Blake's character), he has mommy abandonment issues (nicely presented in some quieter, gun-free moments of exposition), and he wants that fresh start and presumably sees her as a gateway to that. Even so, it's still too much of a stretch (had he been a risk taker enthusiast, for instance, it might have played more believably) and serves as something of a distraction.

There's plenty of action (pretty much copying the blueprint "Heat" laid out so long ago with muscular blasting of machine guns, but not quite capturing the same degree of associated testosterone), some romance, brief bits of comic relief, and decent drama. Again, little of it's new, but it's all handled quite capably and then some, meaning you won't feel robbed of your time and/or money by watching it. Let's just hope Ben feels the same way and keeps making movies set in Beantown. "The Town" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed September 14, 2010 / Posted September 17, 2010

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