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Video: 'The Town': Sept. 10

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updated 9/15/2010 3:10:23 PM ET 2010-09-15T19:10:23
REVIEW

"The Town" may not have quite the emotional heft of "Gone Baby Gone," Ben Affleck's startlingly assured 2007 directing debut. What it has instead, though, is a greater technical complexity, a larger scope, and the promise of a director who's well on his way to establishing a distinctive vision and voice.

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Affleck also has a way with his actors — unsurprising, having been one himself for so long and not always getting the credit he deserves — and he's once again attracted some tremendous talent: Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm and Chris Cooper, who leaves his mark in just one powerful scene. Even Blake Lively is surprisingly good, playing against type as a damaged single mom.

But besides directing and co-writing the script with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, Affleck himself is at the center of the action in front of the camera, starring as the leader of a Boston bank-heist crew and giving the best leading performance of his career. (Yes, of course everyone enjoyed "Chasing Amy," but previously he'd stood out best as a supporting player in films like "Hollywoodland," "Extract," "Boiler Room" and "Shakespeare in Love.")

Video: Ben Affleck takes on ‘Town’ bank robbers (on this page)

And so here he is, in a location he knows well surrounded by actors at the top of their game, making a movie that, like "Gone Baby Gone," oozes authenticity. Locals will split hairs, since Affleck is from Cambridge and the movie takes place in Charlestown — and there's even a thrillingly staged police chase on the narrow streets of the North End, not exactly the easiest place to flee quickly — but it's that kind of insularity that's crucial to the film's themes of secrecy and loyalty. And yes, everyone gets the accent right, something that can often go so horribly wrong in a movie set in New England.

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      Talented actor, director and Oscar-winning writer Ben Affleck returns to his home streets with "The Town." Full story

Based on the novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan, "The Town" focuses on a group of lifelong friends living in Charlestown, just across the Zakim Bridge from Boston. Having grown up poor amid the impenetrable cycle of crime and drugs, they haven't got much going for them — except their meticulous ability to rob banks and armored cars and get away clean. Affleck is their leader, Doug MacRay, whose father (Cooper) was a pretty legendary criminal in the neighborhood himself before being sent to prison for life.

Doug had a chance to leave Charlestown and forge a better future as a professional hockey player, but his temper cost him his big break. Now, along with his best friend Jem (Renner) and a couple of other guys, he pulls off these perfectly timed heists for the local crime boss, a surly Irish florist played by the always-welcome character actor Pete Postlethwaite.

During their latest crime, the volatile Jem takes a hostage of bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall), but when they realize later that she lives just a few blocks away in Charlestown, they check up on her to determine whether she might have seen anything. Doug treats her with unexpected kindness, then ends up befriending her, then falls for her — and she falls for him, too, not knowing she's getting involved with the thief who just turned her world upside-down.

Implausible? Too coincidental? Maybe. But if "The Town" is intended as modern-day pulp, full of shady characters and shoot-em-ups, the added drama of a romance makes sense. Plus it provides the film with some sweetness that's a nice counterbalance to the violence, and it allows an opportunity for Affleck's character to open up. The other relationship that reveals what Doug is made of is with Jem, and Renner is as riveting here as he was in "The Hurt Locker." Every time you see him, you know danger can't be far behind, but the unpredictability of what he might do is what makes his scenes exciting to watch.

Hamm has just as strong of a presence in a calmer, cooler way as the FBI agent in charge of investigating this string of robberies. He's quick, verbal and commanding and has one great, crackling showdown with Affleck in an interrogation room. The film's other major showdown takes place at Fenway Park, site of the crew's biggest job yet, and Affleck got intimate access to the cramped, ancient ballyard to shoot his tense climax.

Would a real fan try to steal millions from the Red Sox? Maybe not. But at least Affleck has the means and the talent to do it with style.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Ben Affleck

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  1. Life in 'The Town'

    "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm plays an FBI agent who's after a bank robber played by Ben Affleck in the 2010 thriller "The Town." The film is set in the Boston area, where Affleck grew up. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 'Town' residents

    Ben Affleck and co-stars Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner attend the premiere of "The Town" during the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2010, in Venice, Italy. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. King of Boston

    Actor Ben Affleck waves to the crowd at the premiere of "The Town" at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 8, 2010. (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One of the Guys

    Affleck presented actress Charlize Theron with the Decade of Hotness award at Spike TV's Guys Choice Awards on June 5, 2010, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Give peace a chance

    Affleck is a noted activist, and is seen here speaking during the Children Mending Hearts 3rd Annual "Peace Please" Gala held on April 16, 2010 in Los Angeles. Children Mending Hearts is an arts exchange program designed to give homeless kids and those less fortunate a voice. Kids in America and those in armed conflict zones around the world write letters and paint pictures for a global children’s book given to the President. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. With fame and wealth comes responsibility

    Affleck has earned acclaim for his acting, but hasn't forgotten to give back. He is the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, and works with community-based healthcare leaders and survivors of sexual violence in the African country. He is seen here meeting with community-based healthcare leaders and survivors of sexual violence at HEAL Africa on March 18, 2010 in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (HEAL AFRICA via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. In a 'State'

    In 2009, Affleck played a congressman whose mistress has been found dead in the topical thriller "State of Play." Russell Crowe, right, portrayed a reporter investigating the case. (Glen Wilson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Return to Congo

    Ben Affleck made his fourth trip to Congo in November 2008, part of his effort to help in the humanitarian crisis in the African nation. Here he visits a camp for displaced people. (Karel Prinsloo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Heart in the right place

    Affleck was one of a number of celebrities who turned out for Children Mending Hearts, an event honoring the International Medical Corps, in Los Angeles in February 2009. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Jen and Ben

    It was a different kind of "Bennifer" (the media's joint name for Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez when they were an item) when Affleck costarred with Jennifer Aniston in 2009's "He's Just Not That Into You." (Warner Brothers) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Family man

    Affleck and Garner walk with their daughter Violet on Oct. 13 in New York. Violet Anne Affleck was born on Dec. 1, 2005. On January 6, 2009 they became proud parents of their second daughter, Seraphina Rose Elizabeth Affleck. (Marcel Thomas / FilmMagic) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. On the campaign trail

    One of the most politically active of Hollywood's celebrities, Affleck campaigned for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Behind the lens

    Affleck directs the new film "Gone Baby Gone," in 2007, which stars his brother Casey. Based on the Denis Lehane novel, it tells the story of two private investigators hunting for a 4-year-old girl. (Miramax) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Back on track

    In 2006's "Hollywoodland," Affleck's poignant portrayal of "Superman" star George Reeves won over critics. Affleck's role as an actor who feels trapped in the limited way the public views him, seemed to echo his own troubles as half of "Bennifer." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lump of coal

    Another year, another bomb. In 2004's "Surviving Christmas," Affleck played an obnoxious young millionaire who wants to buy the perfect family Christmas. James Gandolfini costarred. (DreamWorks) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. For the troops

    Affleck entertained the crew of the USS Enterprise warship, which was conducting missions in the Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom on Dec. 23, 2003. (Adam Jan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. End of the road

    Affleck rides a horse carriage with Lopez during the filming of "Jersey Girl." After the disaster that was "Gigli," Lopez's role was trimmed down to almost a cameo. The couple split in 2004. (Arnaldo Magnani / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Opposites attract

    Affleck met his future wife, Jennifer Garner, when he starred opposite her in 2003's "Daredevil." The movie, about a blind superhero, tanked, but Affleck would eventually marry Garner in 2005. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A new low

    Affleck starred opposite then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez in 2003's "Gigli." The off-screen couple just couldn't create any on-screen chemistry in this stinker. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Bombs away

    Affleck starred opposite Kate Beckinsale in 2001's big-screen bomb "Pearl Harbor." The movie told the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that jolted the United States into World War II. (Touchstone Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Doing his part

    Ben Affleck testified with Joe Kindregan, who suffers from the fatal disease ataxia-telangiectasia, on Capitol Hill before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health & Human Services and Education on July 11, 2001. Affleck urged lawmakers and private citizens to support increased funding for National Institute of Health (NIH) research into Kindregan's fatal disease and other rare ailments. (Paul J. Richards / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. 'Room' service

    Set in the backwaters of New York's financial world, "Boiler Room" features Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) stumbling upon a shady brokerage firm on Long Island that's making a killing in stock market sales. He sees it as his chance to shine. Affleck costars as Jim Young, one of the company's hot shots, in the 2000 film. (New Line Cinema) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Serious turn

    Affleck starred as Buddy Amaral, a hot shot urban ad executive, who woos Abby Janello (Gwyneth Paltrow), a struggling single mom, in Don Roos' 2000 film "Bounce." (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Saving the world

    From left: Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Bruce Willis, Michael Duncan, Affleck and Owen Wilson star in 1998's "Armageddon." An oil driller and his crew are hired to rocket to a gigantic asteroid and blow it up before it slams into Earth. (Buena Vista Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. 'Love' story

    Paltrow and Affleck celebrate their win for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture for "Shakespeare in Love" at the 5th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 7, 1999, in Los Angeles. (Jim Smeal / WireImage via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. All the world's his stage

    Affleck took a small part in then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow's "Shakespeare in Love." He played popular actor Ned Alleyn, who was eager to star in William Shakespeare's new play. (Miramax) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. The 'Will' to succeed

    Damon and Affleck hold their best original screenplay Oscars for "Good Will Hunting." The film earned over $225 million worldwide. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Big break

    After struggling as actors, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon decided to make their own luck and wrote themselves plum roles in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting," which was directed by Gus Van Sant. Damon played a math prodigy with personal issues, while Affleck costarred as the best friend who just wants him to fulfill his potential. (Miramax Films) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Warner Bros.
    Above: Slideshow (28) Ben Affleck
  2. Focus Features
    Slideshow (15) Fall movie guide - September
  3. Columbia TriStar
    Slideshow (15) Fall movie guide - October
  4. DreamWorks Animation
    Slideshow (11) Fall movie guide - November

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