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town-frontAfter a period of wild tabloid over exposure that ruined his credibility with movie goers and very nearly turned him into an industry in-joke Ben Affleck took some time for self reflection, stopped saying ‘Yes!’ to every script that came his way and earned a second act. In front of the camera—in movies like “State of Play”—and behind it—directing the critically acclaimed “Gone Baby Gone”—the man who has made 36 movies since 1993, 4 in 2004 alone, has rebuilt his career, focusing on quality rather than quantity. His latest film sees him on both sides of the camera, directing, co-writing and starring in “The Town,” a crime drama that returns him to the scene of his first success, the Boston of “Good Will Hunting.”

A title card in the movie’s opening credits claim that Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood has produced more bank robbers than any other place on earth. Among them are Doug and Jem (Ben Affleck and Jeremy Renner) to local boys and lifelong friends who specialize in taking down armored cars. When they discover that one of their victims, bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) lives just four blocks from them and could possibly finger them for a bank robbery Doug is sent to scope her out and find out if she knows anything. Of course they meet; fall in love and through Claire Doug sees another way of life other than the violent path he now so effortlessly walks. Jem, however, isn’t ready to let Doug go.

“Gone Baby Gone” set the bar high in terms of Affleck’s work behind the camera. It is an uncluttered, unsentimental film that seemed to announce the arrival of an interesting new director. A mini-Scorsese perhaps. Or at least someone who wasn’t afraid to make difficult, less mainstream choices that honored the story rather than pandered to the audience. That spirit is alive and well in “The Town,” at least for the first three quarters of the film.

Affleck balances the crime and romance elements of the story rather deftly until we near the end when his need [MINI SPOILER] for a crowd pleasing finale trumps his grittier instincts. It’s too bad because while it doesn’t ruin the movie as a whole, it doesn’t strengthen it either. A little bit of edge at the end would have made this a more memorable movie.

“The Town” is a nicely acted ensemble piece with intense work from “The Hurt Locker’s” Jeremy Renner and a sweet performance from Rebecca Hall as the vulnerable bank manager, and a sure hand from Affleck, but disappoints in comparison to “Gone Baby Gone,” falling just short of excellence.

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