The Town ★★★½

By first directing "Gone Baby Gone" and now this film, Ben Affleck has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he is a most accomplished director. Who would have thought that five years ago? Not me, that is for sure.

"The Town", based on the novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan, is a well-paced and fairly effective drama thriller, but it lacks the dramatic weight and the moral complexity that contribute to the greatness of Affleck’s first feature film as a director. Even though the script steers clear of the most irksome clichés, the story is too familiar to be genuinely and thoroughly engaging. It does not help that the love story at the center of the plot comes across more as a requirement of the script than as a convincing, naturally developing relationship.

The action sequences, including a pulse-pounding car chase, are energetic, exciting, and proficiently executed, albeit not particularly innovative. My favorite moment in "The Town", however, is a small but surprisingly powerful scene in which one character savors a sip from a soda cup lying on the ground just before following through on something he mentions earlier in the proceedings. The cloying final scenes are so at odds with the rest of the movie in terms of tone that they seem to belong in a different kind of motion picture; I would have preferred the true-to-the-novel ending, which was reportedly filmed.

One of the things "The Town" does really well is to create a vibrant atmosphere. The visuals look great and the movie successfully establishes the city of Boston almost as a character in its own right.

The Blu-ray edition of "The Town" features an extended cut of the movie, which runs nearly 30 minutes longer than the 125-minute theatrical cut. I suspect that version, which I have not watched (yet), may be the more satisfying one by virtue of having more character-development scenes.

Affleck does a good enough job in the role of Doug MacRay. Jeremy Renner’s intense performance as James “Jem” Coughlin is the most memorable piece of acting in the movie, and Jem is the most interesting character in the film. Rebecca Hall confidently expresses all the emotions that her role as Claire Keesey requires, while Blake Lively convincingly plays Krista Coughlin, Jem’s sister and Doug’s ex-girlfriend. Chris Cooper—virtually unrecognizable—has only one scene, but he nevertheless manages to make quite an impression as Stephen, Doug’s imprisoned father. In the role of Fergus “Fergie” Colm (also known as “The Florist”), Pete Postlethwaite—may he rest in peace—exudes a palpable aura of ruthlessness.