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Thrilling night on The Town

Well, the promise he showed with that gripping adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel was no fluke and he's delivered again here with a truly outstanding piece of work.

As with Gone Baby Gone, the setting is present-day Boston, Affleck's home turf, with the town of the title referring to Charlestown, a tough Irish-American area which, according to a pre-title caption, is home to "more bank robbers and armoured car thieves than anywhere else in the world".

Affleck presents a realistic and gritty portrait of the area, bringing a clear sense of place to the movie, which gives the viewer confidence that the director knows what he's doing as he goes about telling the story.

Based on the crime novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town centres on a gang of armed robbers led by Doug MacRay (Affleck himself), a man fiercely loyal to his friends but who feels that his way of life has just about reached its limit and is angling for a way out.

Doug's misgivings about his line of work are enhanced when he develops a relationship with Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager the gang briefly take hostage during the movie's opening heist.

There are elements of the story throughout which are familiar from other movies, Heat and Carlito's Way being just two which spring to mind, but that's certainly no barrier to appreciating how Affleck has assembled this powerful and extremely exciting film.

The action sequences are outstanding, a car chase around the narrow streets of central Boston and a Heat-like shootout in the bowels of the Fenway Park baseball stadium being the highlights. But what distinguishes The Town is the quality of the acting and storytelling.

Affleck is excellent as the conflicted MacRay but his performance is matched by those of Jeremy Renner as Jem Coughlan, his wired, borderline-psycho second-in-command, Jon Hamm's driven FBI agent Adam Frawley and Rebecca Hall as a woman drawn into a world she should avoid, but nevertheless becomes enmeshed with.

In the supporting roles there are brief but essential and memorable parts for Pete Postlethwaite as a sinister florist who sets up the gang's jobs, the great Chris Cooper, whose single scene as MacRay's incarcerated father colours in the central character's background with deceptive simplicity, and Blake Lively as the drug-addled sister of Coughlan.

Nothing about The Town feels forced or over-egged, with Affleck fully confident in the story and his ability to tell it. Really, this is outstanding on every level and one of the movies of the year. HHHHH


Based on Elizabeth Gilbert's multimillion-selling book from 2006, Eat Pray Love tells the story of a woman's year-long "search" for herself after her marriage breaks up. The "journey" in question takes her to Italy for the nosebag, India for a spot of pick'n'mix spirituality and then to Bali for a bunk-up with a brawny Brazilian, played by Javier Bardem.

This maybe wouldn't be too bad if the central character had some form of self-awareness instead of being a self-absorbed pain. Instead we have an account of a vain and shallow nitwit plodding across continents in search of some form of enlightenment.

Look love, you have a great job as a travel writer, a nice pad in Manhattan and a publisher willing to give you a hefty advance in order to travel the world (which, curiously enough, the screenplay fails to mention) -- just get over yourself.

Imagine being bombarded with second-rate self-help cliches for more than two hours and you've some idea of just how tedious this movie is. Roberts does her best with the awful material, Bardem at least looks like he's not taking this nonsense too seriously and the sterling work by the food stylist (oh yes!) will have you slavering for a proper Italian meal, but this is a gruelling experience. Yawn, stretch, snooze more like. HHIII

Horror. Starring Chris Massoglia, Nathan Gamble, Haley Bennett, Teri Polo, Bruce Dern. Directed by Joe Dante. Cert 12A

Along with teenage neighbour Julie (Haley Bennett), they naturally open the mysterious aperture and discover that strange and terrifying events begin to happen.

It's an old-school kiddie frightener played in a good spirit and with more than a few nods to vintage horror movies to keep older film fans chuckling. The slasher generation will probably find it a tad tame but there's actually something very refreshing about a film which packs in plenty of genuine scares (people of any age with a fear of clowns had better pack the Pampers) even while you know that there won't be any horrific mutilations coming your way. HHHII