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Beantown Confidential: 'The Town' Illuminates a Shady Den of Thieves

Ben Affleck (left) and Jeremy Renner take their game to the park in The Town.

Doug MacRay could have been a contender. He robs banks and armored trucks for a living, moonlighting as a blue-collar construction type. Once upon a time he had a chance to escape the mean streets of Boston’s clannish Charlestown neighborhood, and with them the legacy of his father, a career criminal wasting away in Walpole’s Cedar Junction prison.
 
Doug (Ben Affleck) was a hockey player with a scorer’s touch, but instead of going pro he fell into the family business, emptying vaults for the neighborhood crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite) and setting aside just enough cash to harbor dreams of a better life. He has a tight-knit crew and a guiding sense of principle, though the two are often at odds.
 
His father (Chris Cooper, in an effective, unsentimental cameo) laughs off talk of one last score – you’re either working an angle or lying in wait, he figures. Doug doesn’t argue the point, but his desire to change – stirred by a pretty, unassuming bank manager (Rebecca Hall) unwittingly linked to his work – is genuine.
 
The boy from the wrong side of the tracks falling for the girl who brings out the best in him is a familiar story, but The Town, a robustly constructed heist drama, makes it work. Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, the movie finds Affleck, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, mining his Boston hometown for potent pulp fiction.
 
If it lacks some of the provocative ambiguities that made Gone Baby Gone, his 2007 adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel, so satisfying, The Town holds its own with crisp, ferocious dialogue and a disquieting aura of danger, most palpable when Jeremy Renner is on screen as Doug’s loose-cannon best friend Jem.
 
Here, Renner, the Oscar-nominated star of last year’s The Hurt Locker, plays another reckless thrill seeker intoxicated by the rush of combat, though Jem’s war won’t win him any Purple Hearts. He feeds on violence, and while we never question his loyalty, it’s clear that Doug’s exit strategy is eating away at his trigger-happy sidekick.
 
Whether Doug can outrun his friends and Jon Hamm’s dogged FBI man is anyone’s guess – happy endings are hardly assured – and that escalating tension, plus the fearless performances of Renner and Blake Lively, as Jem’s perpetually wasted sister, elevate a smartly nuanced heist thriller into something memorable.
 
The Town plays a stylish game of cops and robbers, driven by the desperation consuming its flawed, painstakingly fleshed-out heroes. Their world – uncomfortably confined to the one-square-mile Boston neighborhood that, we're told, has produced more bank robbers than anywhere else in America – is one few would care to share with them, but for two intense hours it’s a fascinating place to visit.