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Why is it that Iíve just seen a movie directed, co-written by and starring Ben Affleck and all I can think about is Jeremy Renner?  Maybe itís because Rennerís performance in The Town reminded me so much of my favourite actor, James Cagney in his breakout role in 1931ís The Public Enemy, with Renner portraying his character, the similarly named James "Jem" Coughlin, as a snarling, feral piece of psychosis with the same all-in ferocity that Cagney had generations before.

The Town is a cops and robbers actioner set all around a Boston that only someone who clearly had a deep familiarity with both the geography and its natives could conjure.  The clannishness amongst the lower middle class denizens of Charlestown, MA -- a.k.a. the ďTowniesĒ-- and their pride in both their Irish heritage and occasional feats of lawlessness is displayed perfectly.  Between the accent and associations so specific to this set of people one wonders if we havenít stumbled into a different world altogether or at least an unofficial outpost of Eire.  Itís such a thorough depiction that producers felt the need to insert a disclaimer at the end of the film informing the audience that not everyone from Charlestown is a criminal.  Phew, glad they cleared that up, saves me trying to get a refund on my Fung Wah ticket to Boston.

The PSA is a bookend to the opening setup wherein we learn that Charlestown has more bank robberies than anywhere else in the country.  One gang of thieves includes mastermind Doug MacRay, who like every one of his associates has done time and hails from the same dysfunctional circle as all his friends.  The Fagin to this overgrown Oliver Twist is Fergie, owner of the local florist shop, who sets up heists and provides all sorts of illegal vices for the neighbourhood.  The first job we see Dougís crew pull seems to go like clockwork until his best running buddy, Jem begins to enjoy having a room full of hostages at his command too much, kidnapping one bank employee as a potential human shield after beating her boss into a coma with the butt of his AK-47.  Up until this point, cash was always the main goal for the gang, not killing; so when the released hostage is understood to be a nearer threat than they first imagined, Doug investigates her personally, in part to find out how much she knows about her masked captors and also to keep Jem from murdering her.  Claire, the traumatised bank manager is thrilled to have such an attentive new friend whoís so eager to listen to stories about that nightmarish day and her kindly nature is like an oasis to Doug, who only had Jemís strung-out sister to look forward to and a bitter, locked-up dad as family.  Unfortunately for the two new lovers, as in any tight knit community, secrets donít stay hidden for long in Charlestown and Jem and Fergie both find out about Claire, who now provides the leverage Fergie needs to lure Doug into one last hold-up.  This time the plan is to lift the concessions takings of ďthe cathedral of Boston,Ē Fenway Park.  All this mishigoss while Jem exhibits more and more annoying homicidal tendencies and the police breathing down all their necks, keeping Doug from any type of happiness or a new start at life outside of Charlestown.

Sharp, funny and action packed, The Town is a shoot-em-up thrill.  Ben Affleck balances all the elements perfectly; his bank robbersí caper, his character study of this hardscrabble bunch of scofflaws and edge-of-your-seat action sequences.  The last two of these are exemplary.  Affleck and his fellow writers, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard adapt Chuck Hoganís story, Prince of Thieves into a wonderful depiction of the bonds that tie those in this tough neighbourhood together to the point of strangulation.  Action scenes, like the white-knuckled car chase make brilliant use of Bostonís winding narrow roads in the same breakneck way 1968ís Bullitt did with the steep hills of San Francisco.  Affleck assembles an almost perfect cast, including the luminous and intelligent Rebecca Hall as Dougís endangered ladylove.  Chris Cooper in permanent stoic scowl as Dougís incarcerated father, Blake Lively as the junkie single mother pining for Doug, her suspected babydaddy, and Pete Postlethwaite reptilian and deadly as the neighbourhood overlord whoís had more to do with the gangís lives than most of them suspect, are all excellent.  This may be Ben Affleckís best role to date and heís aware of the stakes, giving himself not only the lead role, but a Will Smith-type beefcake interlude, bare-chested and showing off his personal trainerís hard work.  Iíve always been of the opinion that Affleck did his best work as a supporting player and while heís very good here, this movie is all about Renner.

The one clunky note in the cast is the choice of Jon Hamm as our white hat.  Iíve not seen the cable series Mad Men though Iím told itís wonderful, but Hammís lack of any presence or authority as the detective after Dougís gang show why heís made for television; he was utterly adrift on the big screen.  Reading from an astute script filled with wry gallows humour, his lines fell completely flat nearly every time.  He was so wooden and out of place compared to the rest of the excellent cast, his scenes couldíve been used in a comedy sketch about male models who suddenly decide they want to act.  His partner, played by veteran character actor, Titus Welliver has more heft and threat in one eyebrow lift than the miscast Hamm does at any time during this film.  Thank goodness his character isnít given enough face time to plug up the good works everywhere else.

The Town is a worthy entry into the pantheon of great cops and robbers films. Itís intelligent, darkly funny and full of harrowing, high-impact thrills. The film is not only a breath of life into the inconstant career of Ben Affleck, but confirmation of Jeremy Rennerís stardom.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

Sept. 17th, 2010



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