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'The Town': The job is more than staging a heist

Director, star and co-writer Ben Affleck interviewed real bank robbers to ground his heist movie.

September 12, 2010

Heist films can be distinguished by the original execution of any of the genre's essential staples: a riveting bank robbery, a pulse-quickening getaway, a gothic shootout. Ben Affleck's "The Town" has all that, but one sequence that sets it apart from many movies of its kind is something that unfolds far from the scene of a crime: an emotional jailhouse visit between Doug MacRay (Affleck, who directed himself in the starring role) and his incarcerated father, Mac ( Chris Cooper).

The father is cowed, the son diminished — there's no swagger for this pair of career criminals, only the inescapable sorrow of a family that made the wrong turn at every possible intersection. "It's really at the heart of what the movie is about," Affleck says. "That was a day I felt really excited about making the movie."

The actor's second time behind the camera (Affleck directed 2007's acclaimed "Gone Baby Gone"), "The Town" is a loose adaptation of Chuck Hogan's crime novel "Prince of Thieves," wherein a band of masked thieves in Boston's Charlestown area kidnap a bank clerk, only to have one of the crooks (Affleck's MacRay) subsequently fall for the hostage ( Rebecca Hall) he's supposed to make sure doesn't incriminate them.

Affleck (sharing screenplay credit with Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig) spent months interviewing bank robbers and crime fighters to ensure that "The Town" was as much about ordinary people with real-life worries as a film anchored by an armored car robbery could be. Some of the film's more memorable dialogue comes straight from real crooks, including a line spoken by Jeremy Renner's tightly wound robber, Jem: "If we get jammed up, we are going to hold court in the street."

"I felt I couldn't do anything that I didn't think felt real," the 38-year-old Affleck says. "I find myself working harder and harder as I get older. Not out of virtue, but out of fear."

Opening: Sept. 17

— John Horn

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