Dennis Lehane’s crime fiction has been turned into some very successful movies, including Mystic River, Shutter Island and Gone Baby Gone. But this is arguably the best one: a tough, tense, and entirely absorbing thriller based on a short story of Lehane’s entitled Animal Rescue, from the 2009 anthology he edited, Boston Noir. It is a gripping drama, showing how crime is partly a planned and intelligible activity, in which gangsters ruthlessly prosecute clearly defined interests, but also partly random, irrational and almost arbitrary.
Tom Hardy plays Bob, an apparently nice enough guy who works in a bar owned by his glowering and resentful cousin Marv, played by the late James Gandolfini, a semi-retired wiseguy now in hock to the scary Chechens, who use his bar as a discreet place to “drop” packages of mob cash to be collected later. When Bob rescues a pit-bull puppy from a trash can outside an apartment belonging to part-time waitress Nadia (Noomi Rapace), this blameless act sets in train actions which will end, of course, in violence. It is not an obvious wrong-place-wrong-time happenstance, more a butterfly-wingbeat moment that mysteriously changes Bob’s whole life. But it is also a case of bringing about something that was waiting to happen anyway: an inescapable destiny. This is a movie riddled with guilt and fear. Bob is menaced by a cop, Detective Torres (John Ortiz), who recognises him from the local Catholic church they both attend. Torres upbraids Bob for not taking communion. Is it a cop ploy? Or the genuine indignation of a co-religionist? The title implies a hellish descent.
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- This article was amended on Friday 14 November 2014. We said The Town was based on a book by Dennis Lehane. It isn’t. It’s adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves. This has been corrected.