Ten Word or Less Review: It’s Heat. With Boston accents.
Ben Affleck has done a pretty thorough job of scrubbing away the sickly residue of his earlier movie career. Most of us have forgotten the days of crappy star vehicles like Paycheck, Jersey Girl or worse, Gigli. Affleck has reinvented himself as a director of Beantown dramas about crime amongst the lower working class. The Town, his second directorial effort, is proof that Affleck has the chops to shoot and put together a classy and stylish caper flick and get good performances from an involved cast. It’s just too damn bad that we’ve seen nearly every beat of this story before in nearly every other cops and robbers flick ever made.
Town kicks off as four guys wearing freaky skeleton masks storm a Boston bank. Then to protect themselves when the alarm is tripped, they take the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage. They quickly release her but the damage has been done and the plot is in motion. The group’s most dangerous member (Jeremy Renner) wants to know if the manager can ID any of them and if so, kill her. Affleck, being more levelheaded than his trigger happy chum, takes on the surveillance task and in tried and true fashion, falls for the fetching lass. It’s all conventional but sturdy stuff. There’s a tough-talking FBI agent played by Jon Hamm out to nab the bandits and say gritty dialogue while he does it. A flowershop owner/mob boss played by Pete Postelwaite removes rose thornes with unsettling verve. Chris Cooper is here as Affleck’s prison bound pop. In short, it’s a great cast on hand to perform well for a well worn genre exercise.
Affleck has become a more believable leading man with time. He’s well past looking like an over-preened yuppy hanging out in the drama class to meet girls. His face now has some life worn into it and he’s learned how to project more with less. His good-hearted charm doesn’t feel like a superficial put on. He’s not a bad director either, as his first effort Gone Baby Gone proved, but here he feels like a bit of a copycat. He’s cribbing from the Nolan/Mann/Greengrass playbook and doing it well. There’s a chase through tiny back alley Boston streets that’s pretty top notch and the action and pacing are very decent. But Town just doesn’t have that element it needs to make it its own thing. Too many story beats feel like forgone conclusions and too many scenes echo from too many other sources. His wise decision to stock his movie with grade A talent helps alleviate the ‘been here, seen this before’ vibe that’s always threatening to bring the movie to a tired stand still.
Not the subtle piece of homo-eroticism that was Point Break, nor the macho epic of Heat by Michael Mann, The Town is ultimately a good enough robbers and cops piece that needs more of its own identity to stand above, or even beside, other stalwarts of the genre. Giving everyone Boston accents and robbing Fenway Park simply changes the window dressing. Most will likely like Town just fine. But expect a strong sense of deja vu while you watch it.