Wherever you live, the chances are that there's a neighbourhood near you where respectable people don't like to go. Perhaps you come from such a place yourself, and you know how tough it is, with that background, to make anything of your life, to access education or decent employment or even a relationship that can help you aspire to greater things. In Boston, that neighbourhood is Charlestown. Bank robbery is seen there as a trade "passed down from father to son," we're told early in this film. Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) comes from Charlestown and has put all the intelligence and talent that might have properly advantaged him elsewhere into being a good bank robber. His operations are well planned. He's careful, smart, efficient. If only everything in life were so easy.

Rebecca Hall, showing remarkable skill and confidence in her first major Hollywood role, is Claire, a sweet young woman with the perhaps unfortunate occupation of bank manager. This leads to her briefly being held hostage during a raid. When the gang finds out she lives just blocks away from them, they're afraid she might identify them, so Doug volunteers to find out what she knows. In the process, the two of them fall in love.

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The Town is a long film, clocking in at over two hours, but it needs to be because it has twice as much story as the average thriller, and not a moment is wasted. There's the expected tension between the two leads. When will Claire find out Doug's secret, and how will she react? There's the piece by piece assembling of a case by FBI detective Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), who seems every bit as smart as Doug but is frustrated by the criminal code of silence. Then there are further complications. Jim, Doug's best friend (played by the excellent-as-always Jeremy Renner) is starting to lose it. With two strikes against him, he'll do anything to avoid being sent back to prison, and serious violence is on the cards. Also, his sister Krista (Blake Lively), Doug's former girlfriend, is struggling with a methadone habit and a jealous streak. Finally, there's Fergie (Pete Postlethwaite), a seasoned crime lord willing to stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Thriller fans will find plenty here to enjoy. There are multiple twists and turns framed within a surprisingly resilient, convincing overall narrative. There's plenty of action, and the film's central car chase is the best since Death Proof, showcasing some remarkable stunt driving. But what really lifts this film is the depth of its characters, which is partly thanks to capable acting and partly thanks to a script that takes a proper amount of trouble to flesh them out. Sometimes it's heavy handed - a subplot about the fate of Doug's parents feels clumsy - but generally it works and gives us the feeling that these are real people whom we can care about. Though she is positioned as a victim and seems realistically traumatised, Claire never comes across as weak; the tenderness she shows to Doug seems rather to indicate a degree of bravery in facing up to life's trials, something he is only just learning to do. He, meanwhile, finds that the everyday risks he runs become quite different in nature once he has a real reason to live.

Though it has certain similarities to last year's Public Enemies, The Town sets aside stylish thriller tropes in favour of realism, which makes the action scenes a lot more visceral and the characters rougher round the edges. Its overt social conscience doesn't extend to apologising for its characters' choices; Doug knows that, in the end, he will have a price to pay. There's a recognition of the origins and value of that cameraderie that helps people cope in environments like Charlestown. By the end of the film you'll understand why people say they're proud to come from there. But this is not a film that shies away from the brutality of robbery. Actions have consequences. One hopes that the consequence of this film will be many more interesting projects for the increasingly impressive Affleck.

Reviewed on: 22 Sep 2010
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Events spiral out of control after a bank robber falls for a woman he has previously held hostage.
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Director: Ben Affleck

Writer: Peter Craig and Ben Affleck, based on the book Prince Of Thieves by Chuck Hogan

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite

Year: 2010

Runtime: 123 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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