With The Town, Ben Affleck has proven to be one of those rare Hollywood talents who not only can act, but is also a skilled writer and director.
He infuses his second directorial effort with all the snap and pop audiences crave from heist films, and manages to add some actual character substance into the mix.
The Town refers to Charlestown, a block of Boston that produces an extremely high number of bank robbers. One of these is Doug MacRay (Affleck), the son of a famous thief and head of a small band of masked robbers who have become extremely talented at taking banks down. During a robbery Doug's partner, James Coughlin (The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner) grabs bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) and uses her as a hostage while they get away.
Even though they were all wearing masks, and Claire was blindfolded, James is convinced that she could give them up to the authorities, so Doug goes to her to make sure she doesn't know anything. As would be expected, he ends up falling for her.
This poses a problem not only for James, who is convinced she'll figure out who they are and turn them in, but for Doug on a personal and professional level. Falling for somebody as good as Claire forces Doug to come to grips with the choices he's made in his life. Professionally, she's a liability, as F.B.I. Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm from AMC's Mad Men) comes to realize.
What ensues is a game of cat-and-mouse, with Doug trying to figure out his life with the F.B.I. hot on his trail.
The movie drags a bit in the middle, but when the fuses are lit, the action explodes with precision and drama. The final robbery of Fenway Park is one for the time capsule, filmed with a realism that would make Michael Mann proud.
The acting is excellent from all corners, but special mention goes to Affleck for giving one of his most personal and affecting performances, and to Hamm for shedding his Mad Men cool for a gritty agent that can match the best criminals wit-for-wit.
It's not quite The Departed, but The Town is one of those rare crime films that doesn't just entertain - it grabs your heart, as well.
That's a major score.