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Screen Time: ‘The Town’ delivers deeper than most heist films

Published 10:21am Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It’s hard to find a well-rounded heist story that hasn’t been done before.

Bank robber robs bank, cop chases bank robber, bank robber meets girl, bank robber falls for girl, bank robber has to choose between robbing banks and girl and finally bank robber escapes (or sometimes dies) after an epic shootout with cops. So while “The Town,” which was released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, has its moments of un-originality and does follow this basic storyline, it does so at a methodical pace and better than most.

“The Town” follows Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and his crew which includes best-friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), after a bank robbery they commit draws the attention of FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm). MacRay’s posse calls Charlestown its home, which, according to the film, is the seedy-underbelly neighborhood of Boston, Mass., and infamous for its bank robbers.

MacRay falls for bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) after she is taken as a hostage following a heist, and MacRay struggles to pick his alliances as he is pulled in different directions by Kessey, his friends, and his growing desire to get out of the game. It’s straightforward, but that’s not always a bad thing. For “The Town,” it works.

Charlestown

An opening line claims there are over 300 bank robberies in Boston every year, and most of them are perpetrated by criminals living in Charlestown. Apparently this really isn’t accurate — The Boston Globe says just 23 bank robberies were reported in the entire state of Massachusetts during the first quarter of 2010, compared with 49 in Illinois and 136 in California – but it does make for a good story.

Affleck directed and is one of four who received screenplay writing credits for this adaption of Chuck Hogan’s novel “Prince of Thieves,” and its Affleck’s first directing gig since his debut, “Gone Baby Gone” (for which he also wrote the screenplay).

While this one isn’t quite the haunting, sick-to-your-stomach work of art “Gone Baby Gone” was, it is still a worthy crime thriller in its own right, and Affleck may have found his niche behind the camera.

“The Town” is well-written, beautifully-shot and well-performed, but it is hard to get really excited when you know what’s coming.

Parts of the film – particularly the heist scenes – seemed to be pilfered directly from the 1995 Al Pacino/Robert DeNiro masterpiece “Heat.”

But like “Heat,” “The Town” is much more than a heist film.

Beyond the robberies and chase scenes, “The Town” may actually be more of a character-driven story disguised as a crime flick.

I just wish I hadn’t seen it coming.

Note: Towards the end of the credits, a disclaimer of sorts lets the 2 percent of movie-goers who actually read the credits know: “Charlestown’s reputation as a breeding ground for armed robbers is authentic. However, this film all but ignores the great majority of the residents of Charlestown, past and present, who are the same good and true people found most anywhere.”

Looking forward to…

I’m not sure what could be better than a remake of a John Wayne classic by the guys who made “Fargo,” “O Brother Where Art Thou?” and “No Country For Old Men.” Ethan and Joel Coen’s “True Grit,” starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin opened this weekend, and is sure to be a darker version of the 1969 original (which was an adaption of the 1968 novel “True Grit” by Charles Portis).