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The Town (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 128 minutes

Not for children.

After some disappointing outings as an actor, Ben Affleck took a turn at directing in 2007 with Gone, Baby, Gone, and produced what I thought was one of the best movies of the year. In this, his second effort, he gets even better.

And it looks like this director knows how to bring out the best in him as an actor, because he gives an outstanding performance as a bank robber who falls in love and wants to go right. He plays this off against his best friend, Jeremy Renner, who is a volatile nut case, a cold-blooded killer.

Also giving an outstanding performance is Rebecca Hall as the bank manager who becomes a witness against the Affleck gang’s heist. In following up with her to see if she posed a threat to them, Affleck falls in love, causing lots of problems with Renner.

Combining with Renner, who got an Oscar® nomination for The Hurt Locker (2009), and Affleck, Hall’s performance is the glue that holds this movie together. While Renner wants to whack her, Affleck wants to run away with her. This isn’t Hall’s first outstanding outing. Although Penelope Cruz got an Oscar® for her performance in Vicki Cristina Barcelona, it was Hall who put her mark on the movie.

That’s not to take anything away from Renner. His performance as the unbalanced, unpredictable bank robber is what creates the tension. What will this guy do next?

Affleck brings to this film the same people who made Gone Baby Gone so good, including Harry Gregson-Williams (with David Buckley) who wrote the original music, and co-writer Aaron Stockard (with Peter Craig). As with Gone Baby Gone, the music is essential to the story and the pace. This film is tightly edited by Dylan Tichenor, which keeps the tension rising throughout.

Making this film even better are the car chases. Car chases have become so widespread in action movies that they are generally ridiculous and mundane. Not so here. Affleck’s car chases achieve the high quality set by Bullitt (1968) and The French Connection (1971), the two films against which all subsequent car chases must be measured. Affleck’s are realistic and don’t overdo the special effects to reach the absurd results seen in most films.

Like many movies these days, the location shots are as important as the actors. Although born in Berkeley, California, Affleck grew up in the Boston area and his location shots in and around Boston reflect his affection for the area and evocatively capture its ambience, ending up at Fenway Park, the iconic home of the Boston Red Sox since 1912.