HOLLYWOOD—Ben Affleck’s second time behind the camera proves that he has what it takes to compete with Hollywood heavyweights.  “The Town,” a crime-driven saga about a group of bank robbers in the Charlestown area ofBoston, is an edge of your seat thriller.  Affleck not only directed and co-wrote the film but he stars as Doug MacRay, a conflicted criminal looking to turn his life around.  He is the brains of the group, but standing beside him is his childhood friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), a hothead who has spent time in prison and has no plans on going back.  Renner is fierce on the screen.  You sense this overwhelming rage inside him that manifests at various points in the film, but it never reaches its climax.

The movie opens with a bank robbery that introduces the viewer to Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager who is taken hostage by the crew.  The residual effects of being held captive have a debilitating affect on Claire—that’s until she meets Doug. She doesn’t know that Doug was her captor.  “The Town” has been compared by some to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”  The movie has some similarities in terms of the gritty scenery of the Boston area.  Affleck captures the city effortlessly in the film and you feel that you are there.  The performances separate the two films; the performances in “The Departed” were just much more layered.

Affleck gives a sensational performance as a man who refuses to be a part of the environment he grew up in; when he sees an opening he takes it.  To make matters worse his father Stephen (Chris Cooper) is in prison.  That’s the thing about the criminal world, it’s easy to get in but difficult to get out.  The same could be said for Krista (Blake Lively), who departs from her role on television’s “Gossip Girl,” playing Doug’s on-again-off-again flame.  Her accent is pretty flawless, but I hoped for more of a back story for the character who appears early on in the film and isn’t seen for a significant amount of time.

FBI agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) has the challenging task of catching these clever bandits.   Frawley is a peculiar character.  He’s a good guy, but his tactics to catch the bad guy sometimes forces the audience to question his motives.  There’s a great scene between Affleck and Hamm when Doug is being interrogated; MacRay taunts Frawley to come and get him and so the chase ensues.

“The Town” delves into the psych of a criminal and explores how choices affects everyone around them.  The budding romance with the woman that is kidnapped is a nice twist.  Doug is a flawed individual; we get to see slices of his life that explain his downward spiral and the desperation to escape.  His decision explains why “Jem” aka James is irritated by his friend’s desire to leave Charlestown behind.  It resonates with the saying, “You are a product of your environment.”  While many believe that saying is irrelevant nowadays, it holds true for many.  It’s impossible to escape where you came from now matter how far you go.   Can a person wake up tomorrow and decide to make a change? Of course, but at what cost?

There are some memorable performances in the film from both Affleck and Renner who could become possible Oscar candidates come February.  The pacing of the film is a bit slow at times, which affects the overall strength of the story.  Affleck weaves a tantalizing tale of crime and redemption that will have audiences applauding.  “The Town” is a movie where buzz is sure to spread.  It’s not “The Departed,” but it’s a gun-totting spectacle that is fun to ride.