For his second feature as director after the excellent Gone Baby Gone in 2007, Ben Affleck makes another Boston-set police procedural, this time mixing that formula with a generic bank-heist blueprint. The director himself stars alongside The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner, and, in a dubious double case of stunt-casting, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively). Renner and Affleck play Jem and Doug, two of a team of über-professional bank robbers who have ripped off more than a dozen banks and live to tell the tale each time.
It’s love at first sight for Affleck when he meets the manager of their bank of choice (Rebecca Hall) one morning; the robbers have to blindfold and kidnap her because she witnesses Jem pistol-whipping one of her colleagues. Doug suspects she might have worked out who they are, so, having stolen her driver’s licence, he tracks her down under the pretence of keeping her quiet. Jem is understandably pissed off when he finds out Doug’s been seeing her on the sly, and sets about either having her whacked, or kicking Doug off the team—but he decides to let him stick around for one last outing: they plan to steal upwards of US$3m cash from Fenway Park during the ninth inning of a big game.
Hamm is one of the only actors not putting on a Boston accent, and he’s all the better for it. (He’s still just Don Draper though—it’ll be hard to see him as anything but that until many years after Mad Men calls it a day.) Despite having lived for a time in Boston, Affleck’s accent sounds over-done, lending even less weight to his performance and detracting from the film over all. Blake Lively pops up in a subplot as Jem’s trashy hoop-earing-wearing, Oxycontin-addicted sister, who’s also Doug’s ex-girlfriend. Pete Postlethwaite plays the crime boss Fergie, and Chris Cooper appears as Doug’s jailbird father (because, of course, a penchant for holding up banks is in the blood). Most of the actors do what they can with a weak script—Renner is especially good, given what he’s been handed to work with—but there’s only so much many of them can do with such thinly-written characters.
Critics have compared the film to Michael Mann’s 1995 magnum opus Heat, but the comparison is almost entirely unwarranted. Just because a film has lots of loud automatic weapons and a car chase (albeit admittedly a pretty sweet one) doesn’t make it comparable to a masterpiece. Whereas Gone Baby Gone was based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, The Town is based on a slightly less indulgent/audience-pandering novel called Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, whose vampire trilogy The Strain is being adapted by Guillermo del Toro.
For a B-movie, The Town isn’t terrible, it’s just a bit sloppily put-together. Affleck’s direction (aside from the aforementioned freakin’ sweet police chase) is almost laughably bad: the blocking and editing of the scene where Jem first meets Hall’s bank manager—the New York Times has it on their website as an “Anatomy of a Scene,” if you want to take a look—renders the conversation almost entirely incoherent. The film’s portentous, (intentionally?) factually incorrect opening title cards, which purport to tell us that Charlestown is the armed robbery capital of the world, are almost as gratuitous as its appallingly hackneyed, Huck Finn-like final shot.