The Town - directed by & starring Ben Affleck
Crime stories thrive because of the romantic notion that criminals are rugged individualists, chafing at the shackles of a lawful life and acting in ways that the rest of us would never dare to act.
But, honestly, it takes a certain amount of idiocy to be a criminal. We all know this. To act in a way that incurs the wrath of the state is just plain stupid, unless you're doing it for some higher purpose. Non-violent civil disobedience can be noble, in a way that robbing banks can never be.
Still, there are more entertaining stories about crime than there are about civil disobedience. What this fact says about human nature I'll leave to better philosophers than me.
Ben Affleck's The Town is a credible & entertaining crime story, and it proves that Affleck is clearly developing some chops as a director, along the lines of Clint Eastwood's career. To give his story a little extra true-to-life juice, Affleck sets his movie in the "bank robbery capital of America," making the neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts to serve as a kind of extra character in his cast.
The Charlestown depicted in The Town is a downtrodden, blue-collar neighborhood where loyalty can trump common sense and where everyone's foibles will be exploited.
Affleck himself anchors the story as a criminal with the heart of gold, a man who has gone into what is essentially the family business largely because his peers expected him to. His brother-from-another-mother is played by Jeremy Renner, a hothead whose impulses & motives are transparent to anyone who meets him. He's trouble, as is his sister (played by Blake Lively), an erstwhile girlfriend of Affleck's character. Rebecca Hall plays an assistant bank manager who, in the course of the story, gets victimized by both sides of the law.
But the setting and the surrounding cast are not the real story of The Town. The real story is the cat-and-mouse game between Affleck's character and the hard-nosed, resourceful FBI agent played by Jon Hamm. Affleck's character desperately wants to leave his criminal career and his neighborhood to start fresh somewhere else, but his crew and the FBI have other ideas.
Of course, being the antagonist of Affleck is a largely thankless job, but Hamm carries it off. In fact, his performance is what lifts The Town from the precipice of failure (in the way Richard Gere's performance almost saved Brooklyn's Finest). Hamm's character is written with such intelligence, and Hamm plays him so interestingly, that, when he is on-screen, the story seems to kick into a higher gear.
The plot moves fluidly, with effective pacing, and the story largely avoids the kind of inane posturing that infects lesser entertainments. Thankfully, we get no scenes of our hero-criminals holding forth sanctimoniously. Every conversation is a plot point, and nothing is over-explained. Indeed, the movie is so economical that a couple of members of the four-man criminal crew at its center may as well have been played by extras.
There is little that is groundbreaking in The Town. We've seen these characters before, especially Renner's. And the women in this movie necessarily play minor roles. (Hall acquits herself authentically as a woman who is buffeted by forces she did nothing whatsoever to call forth.) But all of its elements are so well-executed that the end product works.
Of course, Michael Mann's Heat stands as a paragon of the genre, and The Town suffers by comparison. But just because The Town isn't the best crime story ever made doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, and Blake Lively