by Richard von Busack
Not a movie star, but a man who plays one in the movies, director-actor Ben Affleck is a hunk-sized hole in The Town. The intriguing previews disguise a Dennis Lahane knock-off wounded by Affleck’s self aggrandizement. His Doug MacRay is not just a dedicated bank robber, but a recovering addict in NA, a virtual orphan, a man tapped for the NHL, compelled by circumstance to execute brilliant thefts which never kill anybody…the Irish Pepe le Moko of Charlestown.
This once-feared Boston neighborhood’s funkiest days are clearly behind it; we never really get closer than helicopter distance to the dangerous projects referred to in the script. What we see on the ground are flower gardens and open-air cafes, reflecting the ever-dwindling habitat of America’s endangered white gangster. Even the finale, a heist on one of Boston’s most beloved institutions, takes place in the no doubt historic but unphotogenic parking garage.
It’s the old two-brothers plot, foster brothers though they be: aforemention criminal paragon and his younger nutty-buddy Jim (Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker). Even as Doug longs to get out of the racket, Jim, who took a 9 year stretch at Walpole for him, reminds him of his family obligations. A brilliantly executed bank robbery gets screwed up by Jim’s bad temper; the gang takes a hostage (Rebecca Hall) who is released unharmed but traumatized. It’s thought that she needs to be rethreatened to keep from testifying to the Feds, but Doug falls in love with her instead.
Despite the bad-cat, bad-rat dichotomy The Town tries to emphasize, we keep waiting for Jon Hamm’s unshaven FBI agent Frawley to rattle the cages. It’s Blake Lively, as an Oxycontin-fancying tramp, who gets the brunt of Hamm’s power; she does some excellent reacting to a little bar-side lecture Hamm gives about a $20 bill.
Comic book guys used to talk about Affleck playing Superman, but Hamm is the only actor I’d care to see in the part: baleful, powerful, two steps ahead of the humans around him. And I doubt if more bullets would bounce off of his cape than he gets shot at with in The Town. Rebecca Hall, of swaying height and wide orchidaceous mouth, has too much presence to be just the girl in the picture. The inability of anyone to cook up roles big enough for this presence leave her looking like a stage actress stranded on a movie set.
The scrip is choppy and violently undermotivated, though Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwait are outstanding. The movie contrasts slick action sequences, including a bruising car chase through one-way streets, versus conspicuously pre-Avid style editing, to give it some ‘70s style heft. A nice try…but like Affleck’s acting, Affleck’s direction comes up short weight.