The Town

Ben Affleck's heist flick is wicked bad (no, not in a good way).

By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 14, 2010

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Showing off his wide range of facial expressions, Ben Affleck's bank robber with a heart of gold reacts to the charms of Rebecca Hall as the hostage he accidentally fall in love with

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I don’t know if you’ve heard about this already, but Ben Affleck happens to be from Boston.

Following up his shockingly sturdy Gone Baby Gone, Ben takes a header with The Town, a formulaic cops-and-robbers vanity project with an emphasis on local color and dropped R’s.

Adapted from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince Of Thieves by Peter Craig, Affleck and Aaron Stockard, our movie star isn’t just playing a prince here. He’s a goddamn saint.

The kindliest bank robber you could ever meet, Ben does solitary pull-ups to show off his physique, with a six-pack to rival The Situation. He hates cocaine and oxycontin, and accidentally falls in love with a hostage (comely Rebecca Hall) during a job gone wrong.

Hall’s gangly, alert expressiveness is no match for Affleck’s wackadoodle sidekick, (Jeremy Renner) a good ol’ neighborhood boy with an itchy trigger finger. For a bit, it looks like The Town might tear these two friends apart, squabbling over the woman who can identify them in court. But love conquers all, or at least it conquers this subplot in big hurry. Renner’s livewire homeboy, threatening enough to cast a pall over the film, is neutered for the sake of movie-star sap.

Ben’s suffocatingly noble antihero just wants to do the mythical One Last Job before he gets out. As the movie posits his crew knocking over banks to the tune of 90 grand on a weekly basis, one wonders what the fuck he’s doing with his money. How much can false teeth and home gym equipment really run? Especially in this neighborhood? In this economy?

Meanwhile, the FBI is sniffing around. We know that Jon Hamm’s ruffian agent is on the edge because he’s stubbly and his hair is messed up. Occasionally he even says the F-word. Hamm is the best actor on television right now, but his role here provides no inner life. He’s Al Pacino in Heat without all the ex-wives, muttering his way from one crime scene to another in search of a back story.

The Town offers grand shoot-outs writ small, as Affleck’s herky-jerky hand-held camera skips around the action, never quite establishing who is where, or why we should even care. The greatest missed opportunity arrives with a climactic battle royale in the bowels of Fenway Park. Such a grandiose location for what ultimately amounts to a couple of guys taking potshots in a garage.

Affleck does know how to write dick-measuring contests, and large swaths of The Town are devoted to actors out-profanitying one another in confined spaces. But as an actor, his bank-robber braggadocio is limited by the confines of the script, at every turn supplying a halo for our swaggering protagonist.

Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively shatters her image, playing every single mom I went to high school with. The script hints at a fascinating history between her and Affleck, but he’s too lantern-jawed and tedious to indulge her sloppy, dive-bar advances. Mostly Ben just juts out his lower lip, overselling his comical Boston accent and letting that underbite do the acting on his behalf.

Ben Affleck is a terrible, awful performer. It doesn’t matter how many Bruins or Red Sox jerseys this guy wears, the role of a conflicted criminal mastermind is simply beyond his meager reach. The Town fetishizes Boston’s inner city to an almost comical extent, like a kid from the sticks aching for street cred. (Is it wrong of me to remind one and all once again that Affleck hails from my hometown’s most moneyed suburb?)

Hall’s storyline goes nowhere. And if you cut Hamm out of the picture altogether, nothing would change. There’s one great joke about Jack Clark and the Boston Red Sox, but I guess even that is too inside-baseball.

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