*The Town (R)
Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Kimball's Peak Three, Tinseltown
Early on in The Town, we see Ben Affleck in a Boston Bruins jacket. Then we see him in a Red Sox jacket. Would Celtics and Patriots jackets be too much, or is he just not a fan? Or maybe it's because hockey and baseball actually do figure in to the plot, and this is his idea of foreshadowing?
Whatever, as long as we don't forget that blue-collar Boston is Affleck's milieu. The Town, which he adapted from Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, is Affleck's second writer-director effort, after 2007's Gone Baby Gone, and a conscious return to home-field advantage.
This time it's Charlestown, that peninsular northern square-mile nook so solemnly remembered for its strategic importance in the Revolutionary War and, more recently, for having produced more robbers of banks and armored cars than any other place in America. Armed robbery is a family trade in Charlestown, an opening title tells us, passed down from one generation to the next.
Clearly, Affleck's Doug MacRay has learned the trade from his dad, who's now in prison (and in the flinty form of Chris Cooper). What's less clear is how Doug learned to be so sensitive. Yes, he leads a gang of heavily armed criminals, but only reluctantly. Yes, he'll thwart and spar with a looming FBI agent (Jon Hamm), but only while allowing that feds are people too, who at the end of the day, like anybody else, just "wanna go home and nuke their suppah." And yes, he'll keep an eye on that comely young bank manager (Rebecca Hall) whom his team briefly kidnapped during their latest heist, but only then to trade family sob stories and fall in love with her.
People who just don't understand include Doug's druggie ex (Blake Lively), his loose-cannon pal (Jeremy Renner), and, occasionally, the audience. Still, when he finally announces, "I'm puttin' this whole fuckin' town in my reah-view," we do get the idea. It's a movie.
And while it lacks the magnitude it's after, it doesn't lack the courtesy to entertain. It's a little bit like The Departed, although without Martin Scorsese's heavy menace; and a little bit like Heat and Public Enemies, although without Michael Mann's preening style; and a lot like half a dozen forgotten noirs from 50 years ago, although with contemporary touches like BlackBerry smart phones and forensic evidence and a guy getting shot in the crotch. Come to think of it, though, it looks like Robert Mitchum gets shot in the crotch at the end of Out of the Past, so maybe that doesn't count as a contemporary touch.
Anyway, The Town is not just a heist movie, it will have you know, but a character piece, with authentic regional atmosphere. At worst, that means Good Will Hunting-esque backstory blurts and superfluous swirling helicopter shots of the Bunker Hill Monument. The latter, at least, speaks to Affleck's perhaps unacknowledged top priority here, his striving for an elegant and lasting symbol of male virility.
Hey, so what if he's in his comfort zone, as long as he's striving?