The Town is one of those movies you watch, all the while wishing it were better. It's not awful and some parts are engaging, but there is either something amiss or else too much stuff crammed into each prolonged scene. What we're left with is a decent TV show with swearing.
In the film, a den of thieves is committing bank robberies in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a one-square-mile neighborhood in Boston that is reportedly known for more bank and armored car robberies than anywhere else in America. Making up the foursome of criminals are Doug (Ben Affleck) the brains behind the muscle, Jem (Jeremy Renner), the psychotic loose cannon, the driver Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Owen Burke), the electrician. All adept and professional, they have been getting away with this kind of stuff for a long time, but things go wrong when Jem takes bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage. In order to make sure she doesn't see anything, Doug finds a way to ingratiate himself to her post-robbery, leading to a romance. The FBI is there to complicate matters, led by determined agents Frawley (Mad Men's Jon Hamm) and Ciampa (Titus Welliver from Lost/Deadwood/Gone Baby Gone).
The Town starts in instant robbery mode and follows formula with a Fenway Park finale shootout at the end. The robbers use ingenious masks, from heavy metal skulls with dreads to Nixon-faced nuns. I have to admit, this stuff does look cool. Boston is shown in a different light, focusing on the claustrophobic streets of Charlestown that we see through a believable bumper-car-type chase scene through alleys. But let's not get fooled: this is a love story amidst the tough-guy talk, car chases and flying bullets. When we get the gist of where this flick is going, it becomes a sort of Love 101 crash course with far too much back-story that's supposed to invoke sympathy for the characters.
Slow paced and drawn out, this movie suffered from its own seriousness, needing more momentum, which might have been achieved by showing us less. Somewhat stale and redundant, everyone in The Town has a "tell all" monologue that just seems like old hat. Filmmakers who shine always know that their audiences are smart and treat them that way. I found myself checking out the inconsistencies of Affleck's five o'clock shadow turning to 10 o'clock shadow from scene to scene.
To his credit, Affleck proved his highly honed directional skills with Gone Baby Gone, but kept himself out of the camera's eye. Ben has been in some lame movies, giving us some supremely bad performances, but rest assured this is not the acting ilk of Gigli or Daredevil. Still, we haven't returned to Good Will Hunting territory.
Affleck's Boston roots and his mastery of the Boston dialect dial him right into this movie. Chris Cooper as Doug's incarcerated dad mesmerizes in his three-minute scene and Renner, fresh off all the Hurt Locker praise, delivers unbridled acting chops here, bringing the tension up a notch when he's onscreen. Renner has been giving us complex renderings of characters ever since his intricate portrayal of a serial killer in the vastly overlooked movie, Dahmer. And here the mercurial actor doesn't disappoint.
Under a gritty and claustrophobic guise, Affleck fine tunes his directorial chops with The Town. It's hard not to draw comparisons to Clint Eastwood here. Starring, directing and being in virtually every scene has its plusses and minuses. As the driving force behind a heist movie with real people's problems, Affleck takes a page from Eastwood's book, coming through with the arc of a three-act movie, drawn-out emotions and dialogue, but delivering where it counts. The Town is a little schmaltzy, too formulaic and things get sewn up a little too easily. Ben's no Clint, but he's working on it.