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Movie Review: 'The Town' suffers due to all-too-familiar similarities

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“The Town”

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper

Rated: R

There are a lot of great movies that feature their settings as a main character.

“Taxi Driver,” as well as most Woody Allen films and dozens of others could only have been set in New York City.

The “Dirty Harry” series uses San Francisco to full advantage.

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans have all played major roles in films.

And so has Boston.

“The Friends of Eddie Coyle,” “Next Stop Wonderland,” “The Verdict,” and “Mystic River” were all steeped in the Bostonian ethos.

Actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are Boston natives. They wrote and starred in “Good Will Hunting.” It couldn't have been set in any other city.

Martin Scorsese's “The Departed,” a gangster film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg (the latter two are Bostonians), is arguably the best “Boston” film of the lot, with the possible exception of Richard Fleischer's split-screen epic “The Boston Strangler.”

Writer, director, star, and Boston native Ben Affleck tries desperately to achieve the same taut and torrid groove in “The Town” that Scorsese managed in “The Departed,” but he falls short of that lofty goal. It's a good film, but the entire time I kept wishing I was seeing “The Departed” again.

We are told at the beginning of the film that Boston - for reasons unknown - has more bank robberies than any other city.

Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the brains behind a quartet that tries to see to it that Boston keeps its No. 1 ranking.

His cohorts are James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine) and Desmond Elden (Owen Burke).

Doug comes by his outlaw instincts honestly. His dad, played by the quiet, understated yet intense Chris Cooper, is doing a life sentence for killings that took place during a bank robbery.

Doug's gang is a ragtag outfit, and James is particularly troublesome. He's hot-headed and quick on the trigger. During one bank job early in the film, James shoots a man he suspects of triggering the silent alarm and takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage.

The gang always wears full head masks - their weird nun masks are the creepiest of the lot - so Claire has no idea who her captors are. But after she's released, Doug decides he needs to find out just how much she might know about what went down. He ingratiates himself in Claire's life and - big mistake - they become romantic. I was eventually reminded of the line in “King Kong” when Carl Denham says, “Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty that killed the beast.” Flawed heroes are always brought down by romance.

Doug and the boys pull off a few armored car robberies and some bank jobs. Members of an FBI team, led by Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), are sure they know the identities of the gang - all have previous records - but can't prove anything. The Boston police are hot on the trail as well and as is the usual case, the feds and locals are at odds.

Act 3 of “The Town” features the biggest job the gang has ever attempted. And, as so often happens in this type of film, we learn that this will be Doug's last job. He's retiring from “the life.” This, in conjunction with his love for Claire, leaves the viewer absolutely knowing there are bad things ahead.

And indeed there are.

The final act is the most engaging part of “The Town,” and Affleck proves he can do action scenes, even if they are derivative of other, better movies. He gets an “A” for effort, though.

The film is not bad by any means, and, were I not so familiar with “Reservoir Dogs,” “The Departed” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” I might have liked it better. But those films, and many others, are a hard act for a movie like this to follow.[[In-content Ad]]

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