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The Town

Boston Bad Boys

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

It’s no sophomore slump for Ben Affleck. His second directorial effort may not surpass his debut, Gone Baby Gone, but at the very least, it proves its success was no fluke. Swapping out baby brother Casey Affleck for himself in the lead, the elder Affleck again tackles the underground crime scene of Boston. It’s a more straight forward effort and while the story doesn’t resonate as strongly as his debut, it’s a solid view into a community where crime is just life.

Affleck is Doug McRay, a smarter-than-average thug in crime-laden Charlestown. He leads a group of bank robbers that includes his best friend with a short fuse, James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). Whereas Coughlin revels in the life of crime, happily beating people to a pulp or shooting out their knee caps, McRay is disturbed by his rashness. As the others clock in for the work, McRay is having a sort of an existential crisis. His father, Stephen (Chris Cooper), is doing life for what now seems like the family business. Despite these personal ties to Charlestown, McRay is looking for a way out.

Following a robbery, Coughlin hastily takes manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage. He’d like to “fix” his mishap by rubbing out the only witness. Instead McRay takes charge and dutifully falls into a relationship with her, she being none the wiser that her new beau is actually her kidnapper. Throughout all of this FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) is hot on the clan’s trail, wanting to finally put an end to the smartest, and cleanest, robbers in Charlestown.

The first half of the film is an exhilarating ride of McRay displaying his knack for cleaning out banks and clean getaways, while internally struggling with the fact that he’s a criminal. Affleck wears the introspection well and creates a sympathetic character, despite his daily trade. His counterpart in crime, Coughlin is the opposite, a firecracker ready to burst at any moment. Jeremy Renner really does look like he could pop at the drop of a hat. The two actors work off each other well and have a developed relationship that’s strained under McRay’s guilty conscience.

Unfortunately, the film spreads itself a bit thin attempting to rope in too many characters, like Coughlin’s sister and McRay’s ex Krista, despite Blake Lively’s triumph in portraying a drug addicted local girl who’s also trying to raise an unwanted child. And as the film tries to stay within a realistic world, it means that the outcomes are fairly predictable. This isn’t always a bad thing, as Affleck is able to frame every scene in an exciting way, but it means there are few surprising twists.

In the end it seems as if the script just isn’t as tight as Gone Baby Gone, but whatever is missing in The Town, Affleck is able to make up for with his strong visual intuition. More money and a larger cast means more responsibility and while Affleck, the director, may have stumbled a bit, his talent shines through every frame making it an enjoyable and exciting film.