Ben Affleck returns to the director’s chair after his excellent 2007 directorial debut Gone Baby Gone with The Town. Again he takes to the streets of Boston, this time focusing on a crew of bank robbers who’ve gained the attention of the FBI. The film is technically efficient, but it never quite rises to any level of greatness as much as it keeps an even keel throughout. The Town is a satisfying watch, but not exactly memorable.
On top of directing, Affleck stars as Charlestown native and lifer, Doug MacRay, a townie whose mother left when he was a child and his criminal father (a cameo appearance by Chris Cooper) is serving time in prison. Throwing away better opportunities, Doug follows in his father’s footsteps, and turns to bank heists and armored car robberies with three of his childhood friends.
The twist of the story revolves around Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager Doug and his crew take hostage during the film’s opening sequence. Realizing she lives in their neighborhood and may be able to point them out, she’s looked at as a threat and when Doug agrees to look into the situation the two eventually fall in love.
Dogged by the FBI, led by a relentless performance by Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Doug and his boys continue to pull jobs, each escalating in the number of lives lost and bullets used. Each heist offers minor turning points in the story, ever so slightly escalating the plot along the way, but never doing enough to ratchet up the tension to a point you find yourself too involved in the story. Instead you watch with a mild interest and as the film comes to a close you graciously exit the theater, happy the movie wasn’t a bust, but realizing it never hit you where it counts.
Affleck’s work as an actor is something I’ve always looked at as hit or miss, but whenever he’s dealing with his hometown, such as here, it always comes across more legitimate. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), plays Affleck’s right hand man and lifelong friend James Coughlin. James is a bit of a wild card and Renner does right by the character, and for that matter the entire cast turns in good performances, but perhaps a little more energy would’ve brought more life to this picture.
The only actor that shows any serious amount of emotion is Hamm in his discontent with the progress of their investigation. Otherwise, the only registered heartbeat the film has is during the three heist sequences. The Town has the feel of a small neighborhood feature trying to be a much bigger story than it really is. The heists don’t add enough “big movie” feel to the relatively small story where not a whole lot is really going on.
The script, co-written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, has brief moments of greatness and you can tell Affleck had a hand in it, particularly during the more intimate moments between his character and Rebecca Hall. Flirtatious jokes that would’ve worked just as well inside Affleck’s Oscar-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting are included, just as is the brotherly camaraderie between he and Renner. However, the emotional connection just isn’t there. This film depends too much on you caring for these characters and while they are very well fleshed out in terms of understanding their backgrounds, not enough is done to make you really care about where they’re lives are headed.