Who's In It: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Jon Hamm, Titus Welliver, Slaine, Chris Cooper
The Basics: As a director, Ben Affleck is slowly working his way across the seedy underbelly of working-class Boston, one neighborhood at a time. Where 2007's Gone Baby Gone investigated drug dealers and pedophiles in Dorchester, The Town focuses on yet another enclave of crime and institutionalized vice: Charlestown, Massachusetts, a riverfront Irish-American community infamous for producing generation after generation of bank robbers. Affleck directs himself as Doug MacRay, one such son of Charlestown, who begins to question the only life he's known when he falls for the manager (Rebecca Hall) of the bank his gang has hit. Unfortunately, a few problems stand in the way of happiness and redemption: Doug's hotheaded BFF, James (Jeremy Renner), eager to continue their spree; the local crime boss (Pete Postlethwaite), who corners him into one last job; and the FBI agent (Jon Hamm) hell bent on bringing Doug and his men down. Can't a tough emo bank robber just run away to live happily ever after in Florida with the nice girl he once held at gunpoint?
What's The Deal: Hometown boy Affleck has obvious love for Boston and its people, even if he seems strangely fascinated with its criminals. Here, adapting Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, he captures a real sense of place between the housing projects, bars, beaches, banks, Girls and Boys Clubs, and local gangster-fronted flower shops of Charlestown, offering a portrait of a community where troubled souls are simply born, unlucky or ambitious, into a cycle of crime. As the conflicted antihero of this heist thriller-cum-character piece, Affleck gives a mostly understated performance, smartly leaving his supporting cast to provide the colorful bits, the grandest gestures, and the emotional extremes so that he never veers into caricature. (That said, Affleck the director allows Affleck the actor one particular egoistic monologue that seems to go on forever; you can practically see him mentally composing his Oscar speech.) Fortunately, his overall directorial instincts are sound; breathtaking car chases and ear-rattling shoot-outs are thrillingly executed, and by the time everything comes to a bloody, violent conclusion we're left with an emotional resonance that has us looking forward (to Doug's future; to Affleck's future as a director) rather than back.
Memorable Scenes: A frantic Cambridge car chase through tight, labyrinthine streets with no seeming way out; the sight of Jeremy Renner and Ben Affleck disguised in grotesque nun masks, wielding automatic weapons; a lone cop who literally looks the other way; the menacing, well-cast Pete Postlethwaite calmly issuing threats while dethorning roses with a paring knife as a local godfather named Fergie the Florist; a last-act shoot-out inside of "the Cathedral of Boston," Fenway Park.
TV Junkies Will Delight In: Seeing iconic stars from their favorite contemporary shows filling out the cast of The Town. There's Don Draper from Mad Men (Jon Hamm), partnered with The Man in Black from LOST (Titus Welliver), leaning on Affleck's slutty OxyContin-addicted alcoholic ex -- none other than Gossip Girl's Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively)! Also in the mix: Sydney Bristow's dad from Alias (Victor Garber), who turns in a strangely brief cameo as a bank employee before disappearing altogether from the rest of the film.
What I'd Forgotten Until It Hit Me During The Town: My long-lapsed crush on Ben Affleck. He'd lost me during the Bennifer era, but I'm back on the Affleck train now thanks to those soulful eyes, that scruffy boyish charm, and the abs he flashes briefly before donning all manner of fake uniform and casual track suit in The Town.