Cahps and rahbbahs 

'THE TOWN': Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner star.
  • 'THE TOWN': Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner star.

Before "The Town," you'd never guess the only director who could make a palatable Ben Affleck vehicle would be ... Ben Affleck. His grizzled, chiseled mug is everywhere in this heistfest (in this blue-collar criminal Boston, it's always 5 o'clock on someone's face), and yet, by dint of the movie's sheer momentum – and this is critical – you won't want to throw your beer at the screen every time he opens his mouth or attempts to squint meaningfully.

No, "The Town," Affleck's homage to Charlestown, a Boston neighborhood the film claims is the cradle of bank and armored car robbers, actually puts him to good use as Doug MacRay, the brains and charisma in a quartet of crooks who begin the film by donning skeleton masks and knocking over a bank with near-predatory precision. The only hitch is MacRay's best friend, a barely hinged ex-con named James Coughlin (a ferocious Jeremy Renner, of "Hurt Locker" fame). He savages a bank employee and then scoops up manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as collateral in case they're pinched. The thieves escape without further incident, but after releasing the blindfolded brunette, Coughlin decides he'd rather not have any loose ends. To keep Coughlin in check, MacRay volunteers to feel her out. Reconnoitering leads to more rendezvous, and he winds up feeling other things in addition.

He's not the first to fall for a pair of doe eyes and full lips – that classic hostage-next-door type. But it's a problem, since she's cooperating with the feds, represented here in the person of Jon Hamm, playing an agent named Frawley. On its way to a cracking good crime tale, "The Town" commits only two serious sins of its own. The first is that the plot, while fun, doesn't feature anything you could even generously refer to as a "twist." The second is that in several scenes it outfits Don Draper with a name badge on a lanyard. The indignity is visceral.

At least if the path ain't hard to see coming, there is joy in the execution. A car chase scene becomes sublime in the Gordian Knot of paved hallways that Boston calls streets; like much of the rest of the film's action, it has been edited with enough restraint to keep it from devolving into a flickering flipbook. South of Affleck, Hamm and Hall, the supporting cast is plenty homely enough to pass for native Bostonians, with the inestimable Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite standing out with brief and wonderfully poisonous turns as inveterate crooks. Like Coughlin, they're bad guys with bad pasts and worse futures, and "The Town" feels most realistically sinister in these dark tales. Before it devolves into Dillingerian bullet storms, "The Town" succeeds in selling the rogue appeal of the gangster life. It's not that shooting and stealing are in themselves seductive pursuits, though they may be. It's that only the very best of friends will do the worst of things with you, and for you. Companions come and go, but an accomplice is with you for 30-to-life.



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