"The Town" is about a gang of thieves from the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown, which reportedly has produced more bank and armored-car robbers than anywhere else in the country. Who said there's no such thing as robust job creation in America?
Directed by Ben Affleck, who also stars as robber ringleader Doug MacRay, "The Town" is often fine around the edges but mushy at its core. The script by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel "Prince of Thieves" by Chuck Hogan, draws less on life than on other, similarly themed movies, especially "The Departed." It draws even more on TV cop shows. (The fact that the film makes this explicit by giving Doug a speech about his fascination with the "CSI:" series does not lessen the familiarity.)
The tough-on-the-outside, kind-hearted-on-the-inside Doug is matched by Claire (Rebecca Hall), the bank manager who is taken hostage by his crew (disguised as goblins) and then released unharmed. He subsequently seeks her out and romances her without her being aware that he was her captor.
Sweet-souled Claire, with her yen for gardening and her volunteer work with children, represents a better life for Doug and so, as we've seen so many times before in hard-boiled crime movies, the good-bad guy decides that after one last job he's out of the crook's life forever.
It is never, of course, that simple. The Feds, led by Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm), are yapping at his heels; so is his closest friend and criminal accomplice, Jem (Jeremy Renner), who is like a walking, talking time bomb. (Renner played a bomb dismantler in Iraq in "The Hurt Locker." He might want to lighten up for his next role.)
As a director, Affleck doesn't overdo the Irishness of the Irish Catholic community of Charlestown, and the actors don't overdo their accents. There are some marvelous cameo performances by Chris Cooper as Doug's convict father, and Pete Postlethwaite as the scurviest florist-shop owner you will ever encounter.
Affleck, often underrated as an actor, fits effortlessly into this milieu. With a less cliché-ridden script, and fewer shootouts and chase scenes to pump up the temperature, "The Town" might have amounted to something more than an occasionally good movie about crooks in trouble. There's a knife-edge here, but it's been blunted. Grade: B (Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality, and drug use.)