Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Thug with a heart of gold

“The Town”

Three and a half stars

By Thomas Tracy

You’ll never empathize with a hardened bank robber more than you will in “The Town,” thanks to Ben Affleck.

A true Hollywood triple threat, actor, writer and director Affleck (“Hollywoodland”) assured himself a spot on more than one list of Academy Award nominations this year with his simple story about a thief looking for a simpler life that grabs your throat and tugs at your heart strings at the same time.

It also made this reviewer nostalgic for the Park Slope of the late 1980s, when it was still a mostly blue collar neighborhood facing gentrification.

In “The Town,” Boston’s Charlestown is in the same predicament: the hard-working “Townies” are fighting off an influx of “Toonies” (their version of Yuppie), but more and more of their native sons are being re-located to prison.

Charlestown, it turns out, is mostly made up of generational criminals, where children end up committing the same sins their parents did decades ago.

Affleck’s Doug MacRay is no different: he’s a bank robber just like his dear old dad, but he’s looking for a way out.

That chance comes when the loose cannon of his robbery crew (a superb Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”) decides to kidnap a teller during their latest heist as added insurance.

Predictably, MacRay falls for the raven-haired beauty (Rebecca Hall, “Please Give”), which sparks his journey away from the life of thugs, guns, and greasy-haired, drug-addled harlots (epitomized by a strung-out Blake Lively, “Gossip Girl”) to a more law-abiding future.

But that’s where the predictions end.

Slamming on the gas pedal with both feet, Affleck steers you through a number of twists and turns — not including the ones in a nail-biting chase scene through the skinny streets of south Boston — until you’re actually praying MacRay makes it out alive.

Through it all, Affleck’s stamp is on everything, right down to the despondent yet heartfelt personal confessions that were also found in “Good Will Hunting,” which earned Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting.

Affleck also does a masterful job in making sure his supporting cast brings their A game to the set. Through it all, Renner’s unhinged, tough guy antagonist is just barely keeping his murderous rage in check while Pete Postlethwaite (“Inception”) is exceptionally evil as the Irish mob boss who wants to keep MacRay’s crew in check.

“The Town.” Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Hall. Directed and co-written by Ben Affleck. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use. Playing in Brooklyn at Access Digital Theatres - Pavilion Cinema in Park Slope, BAM Rose Cinemas in Fort Greene, Cobble Hill Cinemas, UA Court Street Stadium 12 in Downtown, UA Sheepshead Bay 14, Bay Ridge Alpine Cinemas, and Linden Boulevard Multiplex Cinemas in East New York.


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