The Town

Stars: ★★★☆

Summary:  ‘The Town’ boasts good directing, an involving story, and realistic action, which unfortunately doesn’t make up for some small but critical storytelling flaws.

Review: Ben Affleck is an actor I’ve always felt mixed about. Recently, though, he pulled a Clint Eastwood and became a shockingly competent director. I haven’t seen his debut, ‘Gone Baby Gone’, but his second feature, ‘The Town’, is a glossy, well-made thriller. The story is magnetic and tense, the visuals are of the garden variety but at least you can tell what’s going on, the performances are strong, and the action is top-notch. The result, though, is strangely unsatisfying. Perhaps it’s because the finale veers into clichéd territory and becomes far too predictable.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot here Affleck & Co can be proud of.  The premise itself is as old as dirt, but it’s executed deftly so we don’t notice.  A hardened criminal (Ben Affleck) falls in love and decides to quit after one last job.  What makes the premise seem fresh once again is the strong sense of identity possessed by the Charlestown thieves as a sort of family with ties deeper than blood.  This makes the protagonist’s struggle intensely deontological; it’s not about stealing, but duty and loyalty.  A key aspect in reinforcing this theme is the idea that, whatever their loyalty, people are still capable of good and evil in equal measure.  The FBI (led by Jon Hamm’s character) are practically ferocious and cruel in their pursuit of the Charlestown thieves.  We sympathize with both sides of the law.  Perhaps what makes the finale unsatisfying is that the sympathy we have for Jon Hamm’s character doesn’t survive, even though it’s at the end that we need it most.

Another annoying missed opportunity is Rebecca Hall’s character, Affleck’s love interest.  An often overlooked piece of the dramatic pie in crime dramas is the innocent victims in between the cops and the robbers.  The assistant bank manager with whom the protagonist falls in love is deeply shaken by the trauma of being robbed, but this thread kind of vanishes near the end, once again when it’s most needed.  They could’ve explored the relationship between criminals and their victims in-depth, but they screwed it up.  Well, not entirely, but it’s sad that they got so close without delivering on the cigar.

A major aspect that deserves praise is the action.  Most filmic violence is actually slapstick, with a very tenuous connection to real world physics.  ‘The Town’ has its fair share of straining credibility, but for the most part it’s a respectable attempt at realism.  Machine guns are actually used correctly, grenades don’t explode in the familiar Hollywood fireballs, bullets don’t magically hit the ground behind a running person’s feet, and cars don’t blow up when they crash or the gas tank gets shot.  It’s a step in the right direction.

‘The Town’ is a good film, and a solid sophomore effort from director Ben Affleck.