By James Verniere
September 14, 2010
“THE TOWN” Rated R. : A-
Welcome to Boston, crime capital of the United States.
After Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” (2007), Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (2006), Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (2003) and Peter Yates’ prophetic “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” (1973), the Hub resembles not the Athens of America, but the low-life Shangri-La of every gang-banging, bank-robbing, kidnapping degenerate on the planet.
In “The Town,” Affleck’s adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s Hammett Prize-winning 2004 novel “Prince of Thieves,” Affleck skips another junk-movie paycheck to make a film closer to his heart and his hometown.
As a caption reminds us, Boston’s Charlestown has more armed robbers per square foot than anyplace in America, and this is one of their stories (sorry, Realtors).
The action kicks off with a tautly shot bank robbery featuring terrified bank workers and heavily armed thieves in Skeletor masks and black hoods. Bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) is taken hostage, but let go unharmed.
The mastermind of the robbery is Doug MacRay (Affleck), crewcutted son of long-time prison inmate (Chris Cooper) and an employee of Boston Sand and Gravel. Doug, also known by his sluttish, coke- and Oxy-addled ex-girlfriend Kris (Blake Lively) as “Dougie,” moonlights as the head of what FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) dubs the “Not F’in Around Crew.”
The gang works for a rose-hacking florist known as Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), and it includes Jem Coughlin (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”). Jem’s family, such as it was, took Doug in as a child after his mother left and his father got pinched. Jem is like a brother to Doug, but he’s a loose cannon, eager to hand out “tune-ups” and gunshots.
When Doug later gets involved with Claire without telling her who he really is, the lies spawn more lies and threaten to blow up in his face. At the same time, Fergie is demanding more and more daring heists. One involves thieves in nuns’ habits and a Michael Mann-worthy blazing shootout and chase in the ridiculously narrow streets of the North End. In the finale, the crew knocks over Boston’s “cathedral,” Fenway Park [map].
As the adage goes, 90 percent of directing is casting, and Affleck has learned that lesson well.
Sounding as if he’s swallowed some of that gravel, Affleck could pass as an NHL draft prospect as the film’s smitten anti-hero. As the handsome cop, Hamm has less opportunity, but he and Affleck have a virtual square-jaw smackdown.
A heavily tattooed Renner has a ball playing the lunatic, practically screaming, “Top of the world, Ma,” at the end.
As the gorgeous, drug-addicted barfly, Lively throws Serena van der Woodsen under the bus and brings enough heat to set the trash on fire. Veteran character actor Titus Welliver has street cred as a “Townie” turned Boston police detective-traitor, and Englishman Postlethwaite is worth his weight in gold. Local hip-hop artist-actor Slaine is also very good as the crew’s loyal driver.
The ending may be a sop, and “The Town” may be “Heat” (1995) reheated. But that’s still a mighty tasty dish.
(“The Town” contains extreme violence, profanity, and one of the nastiest send-offs I’ve ever seen.)