Reel Critics: 'The Town' a solid crime caper

"The Town" proves that Ben Affleck's directing debut in "Gone, Baby Gone" was no fluke. He's delivered a solid crime caper with intriguing characters and strong performances, including his own.

"The Town" is a 1-square mile area of Boston's Charlestown, infamous for producing more armed bank robbers than anywhere else. Affleck plays Doug, a second-generation criminal and mastermind of a powerhouse little gang of four. Thus far they have eluded the police and FBI, but this is a town where everybody knows everybody.

During a robbery, Doug's best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner from "The Hurt Locker") impulsively kidnaps bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) to ensure a clean getaway. As it turns out, she lives right in their neighborhood, a fact that makes trigger-happy Jem nervous — and Doug, but for different reasons.

Doug tells him he will check her out and yes, he and Claire do fall in love, which sets up the nerve-wracking entanglements that follow.

Working in the city he knows best, Affleck is able to give a gritty feel and authenticity to the story and his cast is cracklingly good — Renner, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Pete Postelthwaite, and an almost unrecognizable Blake Lively as Jem's strung-out sister.

It's good to see Affleck winning back respect as a writer and actor. As a filmmaker, he could very well be the next Clint Eastwood.


Sensitivity creates complexity in 'Easy A'

It's rare to see a film where a young woman plays a role so well it tabs her as a rising new star. But Emma Stone does just that in "Easy A," an unusual teenage dating comedy. Of course it's full of the expected high school nonsense. Nasty gossip about Emma's character labels her the new campus slut available for easy action.

She initially embraces the false rumors to enhance her standing as a hot babe. Many boys start vying for her attention. But her basic sensitivity leads her into ever more complex situations. She tries to help others break out of their own shells. But as she solves their troubles, she only creates new problems for herself.

Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play her savvy parents. The smart screenplay by Bert Royale gives Emma ample opportunity to make many snappy remarks on life and love. Surprisingly, the pointed comments ring true at more adult levels of understanding.

Along with some contrived scenes, real life issues also flash across the screen in this fast-paced comedy. Funny and thought provoking, it will entertain a wider audience than I expected.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

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