The Town is good movie. It is a very entertaining movie and probably the least annoying that Ben Affleck has been since Good Will Hunting. It is NOT Heat. It is nowhere near the body and mind rush of operatic, action cinema that is Heat. So, don’t believe anyone who suggests that the two are even comparable. In fact, I’d go as far as to slap them right on their chin. They probably think Police Academy 4 makes a nice companion piece to The Departed.
The ‘Bennifer’ alumni plays violent-thief-with-a-heart-of-Irish-gold Doug who, along with his three childhood buddies, relieves banks, armoured cars and other cash heavy strongholds of all their pesky wonga. The titular ‘town’ is Charlestown, MA, a sort of bank robber stud farm and the grimy hole that Doug wants to get out of after – set eyes to roll – one last job. As long as he can take his girl Claire (Rebecca Hall), get the consent of his partner and hetero-lifemate James (Jeremy Renner) and shake an FBI task force headed by Mad Men’s John Hamm, he’ll be in the clear. Problem is, his girlfriend doesn’t know he’s responsible for traumatising her during a recent robbery, James is from the Joe Pesci school of unhinged scumbags, and the FBI are like the cops but with more brains and fewer donuts.
Those silly Heat comparisons are likely drawn from the film’s sonic-assaulting gun battles and the thematic similarities of redemption and revenge, but without the visual ambiance and depth of character, it’s nowhere near as resonant as Michael Mann’s masterpiece. Hamm is given plenty to do but is left malnourished in the characterisation department – in Chuck Hogan’s source novel he too carried a torch for Claire. So, although he looks, acts and sounds the part, ‘the part’ is from the hollow ‘determined FBI guy’ blueprint. It’s Don Draper for chrissake! Renner, of The Hurt Locker and upcoming Avengers fame, has more to do with his Irish bruiser and does it admirably, conveying fear of abandonment alongside homicidal tendencies enough to make us feel more than just disgust at his antics.
Brisk, brutal, and not just relying on the Crash! Bang! Wallop! of the set pieces to excite – a lunch date between Doug and Claire turns into a gasping nailbiter thanks to a naff ‘Fighting Irish’ tattoo – it’s Point Break with masks almost as ugly as Pete Postlethwaite’s florist/crime lord Fergie. Although Affleck’s thriller is a lesser film than his excellent 2007 directorial debut Gone Baby Gone (I have decided not to count the 16-minute I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney directed when he was 21-years-old), The Town is still a slick and watchable slice of punchy pulp and shows that, if he can avoid casting his smug mug and abs in too many of them, Affleck has a canon of quality pictures ahead of him. And none of them will be Heat.