Director: Ben Affleck
After the success of Gone Baby Gone, Hollywood waited with baited breath to see what former J-Lo accessory Ben Affleck would churn out next. He (along with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard) set about adapting Chuck Hogan’s novel ‘Prince of Thieves’, about a gang of bank robbers operating out of Boston’s notorious Charlestown district. Intrigue was increased by the casting, as a line-up of fresh faces (Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively) met with old hands (Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper) to shoot it out on the streets of Boston.
Thus, we arrive in The Town. Affleck’s second film as a director boasts all the energy of his first, but has to carry a lot more narrative flab. Affleck himself stars as Doug MacRay, the leader of a bank-robbing mob whose latest robbery (which opens the film) leaves their hostage, bank manager Claire (Rebecca Hall), traumatised. Afraid she may know too much, MacRay sizes her up to see what she knows, but ends up falling in love with her. Meanwhile, the FBI are on the gang’s tail, and S.A. Adam Frawley (‘Mad Men’s Jon Hamm) is determined to catch MacRay dead or alive. As the gang continue to rob, the noose around them tightens, leading to VERY LOUD gun battles in Charlestown.
Heat was made 15 years before The Town, but its influence is felt in almost every cops-n-robbers movie made since. The Town is so indebted to Michael Mann’s masterpiece that it borrows heavily from it and in the process forgets to do anything that marks it out as original. Affleck’s gun battles are as loud and as exciting as Mann’s, but the characterization lets him down badly. MacRay is the focus of the story, and Affleck does well in the role but it’s hard to empathize when he falls in love with the one person who could give him up to the FBI. A little stupid, no? His friend and fellow robber Coughlin (the excellent Jeremy Renner) certainly thinks so, and he and MacRay exchange hard banter and blows. Hall and Lively (as MacRay’s floozie ex) impress, and Postlethwaite and Cooper (as MacRay’s boss and father respectively) do much with underwritten roles. Hamm is the standout, however, as his hard-as-nails Fed chews the scenery with apoplectic aplomb.
The characters, as well inhabited as they are by the cast, are clichés. Mann beefed them up in Heat, but Affleck struggles to make them seem interesting here. Affleck and Hamm don’t have the spark of De Niro and Pacino, and you can probably guess what’ll happen to each character long before the end. The Town is 135 minutes long and yet feels rushed, with an ending that tries too hard to wrap up loose ends satisfactorily. It’s a sufficiently entertaining and well-acted ride, but the evidence suggests Affleck may be a more talented director than he is a writer. There’s not enough originality in the script to back up his directorial verve.