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The Town

I found it amusing that posters and trailers for The Town, Ben Affleck's mesmerizing tale of bank-robbing Boston townies, conspicuously avoid mentioning its director by name. No doubt wary of moviegoers' collective antipathy toward Affleck's acting work, they instead use the label "from the director of Gone Baby Gone" to indicate the film's authorship. Nor, for that matter, is Affleck's name to be found anywhere among the The Town's opening titles, a collection of quotes touting the working-class Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, the film's main setting, as America's premier breeding ground of bank and armored car thieves. Only at the end of the film, in the first frame of the closing credits, is "Directed by Ben Affleck" deemed safe to display. This is what Jersey Girl has wrought.

Based on Chuck Hogan's novel The Prince of Thieves, The Town boasts a conventional storyline buoyed by a host of exceptional performances. Doug MacRay (Affleck) leads a quartet of locally raised miscreants who hold up banks while clad in menacing masks (my favorite is the Skeletor one). Bred from the cradle to lead lives of crime, they're exceedingly good at their jobs, despite the occasional destructive outburst by Doug's second-in-command, Jem (Jeremy Renner), a snarling, volatile thug whose zeal for excessive force we can only assume will get the boys in trouble one of these days. The crew's success makes them a favorite of the local Irish crime boss, Fergie the Florist (Pete Postlethwaite), and a target of FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), a well-bred square-jaw who badgers Townie suspects with big words and rails against their stubborn adherence to the "no snitching" code. Needless to say, a collision course is soon set, and it gains increased speed when Doug strikes up an ill-advised romance with the star witness from their most recent heist, a pretty, pensive bank employee named Claire (Rebecca Hall).

Playing the archetypal heist-flick anti-hero, a sensitive, teetotaling, thinking-man's burglar who intends to abandon the thieving business after a fabled "one last job," Affleck is outshined by nearly every actor with which he shares significant screen time. Which isn't to say he's bad — on the contrary, The Town qualifies as Affleck's best acting job to date — it's just that his castmates are so uniformly terrific. Renner, Postlethwaite, Hamm, and even Chris Cooper, who appears in a cameo as Doug's incarcerated pop, are all towering presences, and they simply dominate Affleck whenever opposite him. Credit Affleck for having the magnanimity to let them.

Perhaps this might explain why Affleck allots too much of The Town's running time to Doug's somewhat far-fetched relationship with Claire: It allows his character to emote and expound and ruminate on such matters of import as his troubled youth and his yearning for a less complicated life in a less intimidating environment. This needless concession to Affleck the actor is one of the few black marks on an otherwise superb effort by Affleck the director, who takes another bold step toward leaving Jersey Girl in his rearview mirror. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.