As impressively controlled as Gone Baby Gone was, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut had a slightly airless quality, as if the film had been finished, then sealed behind a layer of plastic. His second feature, The Town, is a looser and more sprawling affair, more conventional, but also more assured. It’s also more of an Affleck movie. Though he stayed behind the camera for his first outing, this time, he reserves the central role for himself: that of a professional bank robber who finally gets a whiff of the straight life.
The son of convicted larcenist Chris Cooper, now serving a life bid in prison, Affleck is the brains behind his four-man crew, which includes lifelong friend and occasional sparring partner Jeremy Renner. They’re prolific enough to draw the attention of FBI agents Jon Hamm and Titus Welliver, but careful enough not to show their faces or leave any useful evidence behind—at least until wild card Renner decides to nab bank manager Rebecca Hall as collateral for their quick getaway. Physically, Hall gets away unharmed, but she’s emotionally wrecked, enough that she falls too quickly for Affleck, who comes sniffing around at Renner’s behest to make sure she doesn’t think about going to the cops. As Affleck and Hall’s relationship deepens and turns romantic, the increasingly volatile Renner presses for bigger and less well-prepared jobs, culminating in an attack on one of old Boston’s crown jewels.
Although the movie is set in Boston’s blue-collar Charlestown neighborhood, Affleck appears to have moved past the attention to regional flavor that gave Gone Baby Gone some of its special kick. There are clam-chowder accents and Fighting Irish tattoos aplenty, but the plot, based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince Of Thieves, is boilerplate, and at times merely silly. Affleck doesn’t have the directorial chops to bring off a movie painted in such broad strokes, or to tap into the genre’s archetypal roots in a way that would bring life to some of its most worn-out elements. Still, Affleck uses his cast, which also includes a tarted-up Blake Lively as Renner’s sister and Affleck’s former flame, exceedingly well, especially given that the actors often aren’t given much to work with. The movie’s exterior is solid, but it’s hollow inside, like a safe filled with air.