The robbers work with a confident, brutal and bracing efficiency. And the same could be said of their director.
Ben Affleck's "The Town" is the work of a filmmaker with an eye for faces, an ear for dialect and a light hand on the editor's shoulder. It's the best heist picture since "Heat," and it confirms that Affleck, who co-wrote the adaptation of a Chuck Hogan novel, is no "Gone Baby Gone" fluke.
Set in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, "The Town" is about a profession that has consumed generations there — bank robbery. Doug (Affleck) picked it up from his dad, who's in prison for life. His pal Jem (the terrific Jeremy Renner from "The Hurt Locker") was born into the biz, too. Their crew knocks over the occasional armored car or bank. Not too often, mind you. They don't need the cash, or the hassle of the FBI getting close to them.
They splash bottles of bleach all over crime scenes, sweep up hair from barbershops to leave in their stolen getaway vans — which they then torch. DNA evidence? It'll be the wrong DNA. They're not geniuses. They're just drawing on generations of experience.
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But one robbery puts Claire (Rebecca Hall of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona") in their way. She's pretty, which Doug notices through his disguise. She's local, which he picks up on. She works for the bank and tripped the alarm, which he hides from the others. And when they kidnap and blindfold her, he's the one who whispers, "No one's going to hurt you."
The feds, led by an intense Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," can't get much out of her. But Jem, a two-time loser, isn't in the mood to take chances. Doug isn't hearing it.
"She's already scared," he says.
"Maybe not scared enough," Jem spits back.
Thus, an unlikely, far-fetched "relationship" begins — the still-traumatized Claire, who has no clue that this charming working-class Joe she met in a laundromat had once held a gun on her, and the good-hearted bank robber who has this great big lie hanging over his hopes for the woman of his dreams.
As unlikely as all this seems, Affleck makes it work. Though he can't resist the occasional personal confession delivered with the far-away eyes of a soliloquy, the romance's bizarre nature never takes center stage. This is a movie about a milieu and the hard people who inhabit it.
Renner brings a Cagney-like short-guy/chip-on-his-shoulder intensity to Jem. Blake Lively plays Jem's too-hot/too-stoned younger sister. And the great Pete Postlethwaite is the "florist" who sets up these robberies, and has for decades. Guys with thick Boston accents break down the code which these men live by —"Did his time like a man."
And the robberies, from the opener to the "one last job" that heist pictures have lived off of for decades, are as fast and furious as the real thing. This crew arms itself and gears up, but this isn't "Takers," with its over-the-top "How can you turn a profit spending that much on a caper?"
Best of all is the movie's sure sense of place, as Affleck shoots chases through the narrow streets and tentative, romantic dates in the distinct, off-the-tourist-track corners of the city.
He's directed and starred in a thoroughly involving, perfectly entertaining thriller, and one that celebrates the rough edges of his "Town" without polishing them off.