Based on a novel by Chuck Hogan, Ben Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort falls in that middle-ground between better than his detractors would presume and worse than his defenders would hope. Among the virtues common to most good heist movies is economy, sticking closely to the mechanics of the scheme while characters develop quietly in the margins. The Town is most problematic when it lingers too long in those margins, especially the fairly preposterous love story between Affleck’s career robber and the bank manager, played by Rebecca Hall, who he and his crew just kidnapped. The crew wore masks so Hall doesn’t realize that Affleck was her kidnapper—this could have been a way more interesting movie if she did and dated him anyway—and enters into a romance with him that consists almost entirely of Dunkin Donuts dates or hanging out at her place and exchanging over-rehearsed monologues about their personal baggage. His obviously, are heavily censored.
None of the central characters feel worth investing in even after they’re ostensibly fleshed out. Jeremy Renner plays Affleck’s partner-in-crime, your token loose cannon—he thinks he’s James Cagney in White Heat, where Affleck thinks he’s James Cagney in Angels Have Dirty Faces—always sniffing around for an excuse to snuff somebody, another adrenaline junky on the heels of Renner’s acclaimed performance in The Hurt Locker, and a character blatantly constructed as a plot device. I was very excited to see Mad Men’s Jon Hamm in a meaty big screen role, but his g-man never gets to do much besides reiterate his cold determination to nail the crooks terrorizing Boston.
Which is arguably the fifth central character in The Town, named after the Charlestown district which the opening title card describes as a Petrie dish for bank robbers, working men dutifully following in their father’s footsteps, contributing whatever small innovations are needed to maintain the family trade over changing times. That makes bank robbing sound somewhat similar to genre filmmaking, but The Town only partially feels like a solid genre exercise. Affleck’s pretty good with the action bits and his camera work shows genuine affection and sensitivity to his fellow actors, but there’s a significant miscalculation as to how many narrative clichés any one movie can carry without buckling over, including the absurd recklessness shown from both the cops and the robbers during the final shoot-out. So take this as a conditional recommendation: The Town is disappointing for its flawed and flabby script, but there’s enough energy generated in the hold-ups, stake-outs and chases to keep you from feeling completely robbed.