Don’t call it a comeback for Ben Affleck (yet), but a film he wrote, directed, and starred in appears poised to break the curse of Gigli and return him to the critically-acclaimed section of the A-list. The Town, which takes place in a Boston that is supposedly the "bank robbery capital of the world," follows a storied tradition of Beantown crime thrillers (including Mystic River, The Departed and The Friends of Eddie Coyle) that have mined darker, regional themes to critical and commercial success.
So does the Affleck's second directorial effort measure up? The film's studio, Warner Brothers, sure wants audiences to think so. It has heavily marketed The Town as a sort of thematic follow-up to Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning gangster flick The Departed, invoking that title constantly in TV spots, print ads and trailers. Critics, however, aren't so quick to grant immortality to the admittedly "very good" movie. Here's what they have to say:
If 'Heat' and 'The Departed' Had A Baby... "the result might come close to The Town," concludes Pete Hammond at Box Office magazine. The film, which is "set in Charlestown, Massachusettes, a one square mile neighborhood in Boston that is reportedly responsible for more bank and armored car robberies than anywhere else in America," effortlessly blends compelling fiction and taut direction by Ben Affleck to deliver a "good work of a guy on a path of discovery, with Boston as the artist's own Freedom Trail."
- 'The Town' Takes Place in 'Movie Boston,' not the real thing, asserts Ty Burr at The Boston Globe. "Movie Boston is a sub-Scorsese landscape of stubbled men walking down mean Suffolk County streets that exist primarily in the minds of good pulp novelists and bad screenwriters," and this movie follows the script to a tee. The film, however, does succeed on the"local color-level." For instance, "You buy that a vicious neighborhood top dog might look like Pete Postlethwaite and work as a florist; that his muscle might look like Dennis McLaughlin, a non-actor with excellent B-movie presence."
- Welcome to 'the Crime Capital' After so many movies have riffed on the Boston crime scene (including Affleck's own Gone Baby Gone), "the Hub resembles not the Athens of America, but the low-life Shangri-La of every gang-banging, bank-robbing, kidnapping degenerate on the planet," writes The Boston Herald's James Verniere. "The ending may be a sop, and 'The Town' may be 'Heat' (1995) reheated. But that’s still a mighty tasty dish."
- Affleck 'Looks Like the New Clint Eastwood. Seriously' Newsweek's Caryn James can is suprised to find herself elevating Affleck, an actor-director once best known for dating Jennifer Lopez, to iconic filmmaker status, but The Town display's Affleck's, "signature style: deep, unobtrusive realism." The film's "shrewd deliberation" and "common-sense approach informs much of The Town, from the robbers’ nuking the bank’s surveillance tapes in a microwave to their inspired disguises for an armored-car job: they’re gun-toting nuns in wimples and old-lady Halloween masks."
- 'A Well-Made Crime Procedural, and audiences are likely to enjoy it at that level, but perhaps the mechanics of movie crime got in the way of Affleck's higher ambitions," writes Roger Ebert, who gave the film three out of four stars. He explains: "above a certain budget level, Hollywood films rarely allow complete follow-through for their characters. Consider the widespread public dislike for this year's best crime film, George Clooney's 'The American.' People didn't want a look into the soul of an existential criminal. They wanted a formula to explain everything."