"As a director, Ben Affleck is more of a grafter than a dreamer," writes David Jenkins for Time Out London. "The same could be said of his writing. Hell, why don't we throw his acting in there as well? Brushing aside the light alt-indie trappings of his well liked directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, this new soulful shoot-em-up, The Town, plays it straighter than a pool cue, offering the sort of solid, proficiently written cops 'n' robbers yarn that is the stuff of a thousand Bluffer's Guide to Moviemaking tomes."
For Tom Shone, The Town is "a muscular triumph, from top to bottom, a keening, steely crime drama which sets down in Charlestown, the area of Boston which produces more bank robbers than any other square patch of America. After the heady thrills of Shutter Island and Inception you may find yourself limp with gratitude for a film which feels so rooted in a recognisable quadrant of the map, rather than the frontal lobes of Leonardo Di Caprio." The Town is "genre filmmaking of the highest order — with an indelible sense of self-summation, a fine-tuning and retooling of all things Affleck."
"The film tells the story of a group of men, lifelong friends from Charlestown..., picking up mid-spree," explains Drew McWeeney at Hitfix. "Doug MacRay (Affleck) is the leader of a crew of guys who have gotten very good at hitting difficult targets. As the film begins, they hit a small local bank, and when things go a little south during the job, one of the guys on the crew, Jem (Jeremy Renner) takes a hostage, a lovely bank manager named Claire (Rebecca Hall). They release Claire before the main title even shows up onscreen, and the entire rest of the movie is about the way a single crime reverberates through the community. The Town is largely successful, impressively acted, impeccably shot by Robert 'There Will Be Blood' Elswit, and it tells its story with an impressive eye for what makes Boston special."
In Variety, Justin Chang finds that "while it pulses with atmosphere, this tale of grand larceny, unlikely romance and betrayal sacrifices some of Baby's troubling ambiguity and emotional force in pursuit of broader, more action-driven appeal."
Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter: "Affleck gets the tribalism of Boston's traditionally Irish-American enclaves; it's a defining force in his characters' lives. But for all their well-played grit, those characters resolutely remain types, and for all the well-choreographed action, the outcome doesn't matter nearly as much as it should."
"At its best, The Town rekindles memories of those 70s American thrillers like Serpico or Charley Varrick in which characterisation was as important as action," suggests Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "However, the storytelling is often undermined by posturing, macho dialogue. Based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, the film suffers from the same identity crisis as its vacillating lead character. Just as Doug can't decide whether he's a tough guy or a sensitive, introspective type, the film-makers seem uncertain what tone they're trying to strike."
The Evening Standard's Derek Malcolm finds that The Town, "which allows its flawed hero an ending he perhaps doesn't deserve, has a good mix of moments recalling a Bostonian version of The Wire and the car chases and gun fights of more orthodox thrillers."
THE TOWN (Affleck, B/B+) Deceptively exemplary studio movie-making with ace ensemble; if Eastwood made this, people would be genuflecting.Wed Sep 08 10:16:48 via web Guy Lodge
"At the age of 21, [Owen] Burke finds himself starring in one of the fall's biggest films as Dez, the baby in a gang of bank-robbing Charlestown degenerates," writes Chris Faraone in a backgrounder for the Boston Phoenix. "Casting like this is why Affleck's Boston films are so authentic that locals quote them. (Or maybe the mutterings of the vagrants at your sketchy corner pub just sound like Gone Baby Gone zingers.) Affleck, a Cambridge native, stacks his scenes with locals who know the landscape — so that Hollywood bigs like Jeremy Renner have ever-present role models for how to drop vowels and get reckless."
Profiling Affleck for the New York Times, Michael Cieply assumes The Town is "clearly meant to refocus a career that has bounced from roles in action thrillers like Armageddon, to bit parts in indie romps like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, through the on-screen embarrassment of Gigli, to acclaim for directing Gone Baby Gone. All without delivering what Good Will Hunting seemed to promise: that rare actor with skills enough to create his own showcase."
Updates: "The Affleck brothers — Casey and Ben — are vying for glory at this year's Venice film festival," notes the Guardian's Xan Brooks. "Try as I might, I can't decide which film is funnier, although it may well be The Town, which acts so big and tough that it soon grows faintly ludicrous."
"These characters don't range too far from stereotypes, but it's a likable variation of the familiar theme, with a tangy Boston atmosphere that, as one character says, is 'authentitious,'" writes Time's Richard Corliss.
Update, 9/10: "There's a predictability to The Town that's bothersome, largely because the cast is so strong and their dialogue so flavorful that I wished their work had been in service of something other than yet another 'Just let me pull one last big job and then we'll blow this town' plot," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club.
Updates, 9/11: "As with 13 Assassins, much of the beauty here lay in the details," notes Shane Danielsen at indieWIRE: "[T]he way the robbers, in the midst of their first hold-up, microwaved the hard drives of the bank's security cameras. Or the bleach they splashed over every surface in their wake, scouring any trace of fingerprints or DNA from the crime-scene. Affleck's character was interesting, too: an essentially decent guy, aware of his need to improve himself, yet unable to stop himself from doing every shitty thing his upbringing and his nature conspired to make him do." The Town "achieved a difficult thing, honoring the various conventions that constitute a genre, without treating them like hackneyed clichés."
"One can imagine the James Gray of Two Lovers gravitating toward Hall's affectingly confused character," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "[U]nfortunately, with Affleck behind and in front of the camera, you're left with a fatuous star vehicle that leaves little doubt about who gets the most soulful close-ups."
But for John Lopez, building up to a chat with Chris Cooper for Vanity Fair, "Affleck takes us back to Boston with a gritty gravitas that deserves a Harvard diploma and shot of whiskey, making Scorsese's delightfully wry depiction of the city in The Departed look like an episode of Glee with Southie accents."
Writing for IFC.com, Stephen Saito finds The Town "good more of the time than it's not, but suffers from the fact it should've been great." But at Cinematical, Joe Utichi argues that it's "just as smart and well-executed as Affleck's last, and with him back in front of the camera too, it delivers on all that promise of Affleck's earlier career as an actor."
Leah Rozen profiles Hall for the New York Times.
Updates, 9/13: "Everyone in The Town shines, even Blake Lively, but it's Chris Cooper as MacRay's imprisoned dad who astounds," writes New York's David Edelstein. "The performance is hard, almost completely internal, with the barest hint of disgust at his son's credulity. This is Jon Hamm's first meaty movie role since embodying — incomparably — one of the most conflicted characters in the history of television. On one hand, it's disappointing that his FBI agent, Frawley, does little besides bark orders, stare down suspects, and lead his team in gun battles. On the other hand, his handsomeness comes through vividly on the big screen. And it's good to see him off the booze!"
Tom Shone talks with Affleck for the Telegraph. And so does Anne Thompson, but here interview's on video (just short of ten minutes altogether).
Updates, 9/16: "Affleck combines visceral excitement, bracing authenticity, and an ambiance of malice and dread to make what might be the best movie set in Boston since The Friends of Eddie Coyle — and that includes his own Gone Baby Gone." So argues Peter Keough in the Boston Phoenix, where he also interviews Affleck and Rebecca Hall.
"I don't care what anyone outside the greater metropolitan area says," writes the Boston Globe's Ty Burr. "The Town takes place in Movie Boston rather than the real thing. 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 its authenticity depends far too much on Hollywood actors trying hahd to bend their dialogue around non-rhotic speech patterns."
"Clocking in at a heavy two hours, The Town does not end before Affleck wears a snicker-inspiring introspective beard," notes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "If for this alone, it misses on the big emotional gut-punch — but it's good enough at least that you wish it was better."
"[W]hile The Town lacks the magnitude it wants, it doesn't lack the courtesy to entertain," argues Jonathan Kiefer in the Faster Times. "It's a little like The Departed, although without Martin Scorsese's heavy menace; and a little 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 such as Blackberries and forensic evidence and a guy getting shot in the crotch. Come to think of it, though, it really looked like Robert Mitchum got shot in the crotch at the end of Out of the Past, so maybe that doesn't count as a contemporary touch after all."
"Ben Affleck is a terrible, awful performer," declares Sean Burns in the Philadelphia Weekly. "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."
In the Austin Chronicle, Kimberley Jones disagrees: "It's an aching, vulnerable performance, and the tenderness of Affleck and Hall's scenes together elevate the routineness of the one-last-job-and-I'm-out plot."
"It doesn't help that MacRay's believably blue-collar dissatisfaction with his line of work is slowly set aside in favor of superheroic flourishes," finds Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York, where David Fear interviews Affleck.
Affleck directs "in a crude, HBO style that should not pass for cinema," argues Armond White in the New York Press.
John Horn talks with Affleck for the Los Angeles Times.
"Tightly plotted and full of compellingly presented and convincing novelistic detail, The Town cannot, in all honesty, be said to break too much new ground in its genre," writes Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies. "And as its romantic component — as potentially ill-advised a matchup as any you'll see, going all the way back to the golden era of film noir — indicates, this is a picture that, as realistic as its particulars are, it works according to movie logic rather than real-life logic. And if you can't hang with that, The Town is going to lose you pretty quick. But if you can hang — and the superb performances, zippy dialogue, and adroit, brisk cinematic storytelling make it, to these eyes and ears, a pretty enjoyable hang — you'll find that The Town digs a little deeper under its genre conventions and character commonplaces to work its way to being a very satisfying and unexpectedly moving experience."
"Affleck doesn't have the directorial chops to bring off a movie painted in such broad strokes, or to tap into the genre's archetypal roots in a way that would bring life to some of its most worn-out elements," finds Sam Adams at the AV Club.
"Is Warner Bros trying to mold Ben Affleck into the new Clint Eastwood?" wonders Todd McCarthy. "Well, why wouldn't they?"
Updates, 9/17: "[T]he performances in The Town are strong enough to make it watchable, and the sense of place — of topography and architecture, if not of actual social life — is vivid and enjoyable," finds AO Scott in the NYT. "A climactic caper at Fenway Park blows holes in the film's narrative and emotional credibility, but it is fast and exciting all the same, perhaps especially for Yankees fans."
"Here is 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," proposes Roger Ebert.
"[O]f the slew of modern Boston crime films, The Town, with its story of two criminal friends seeking opposite paths, an imperiled father-son relationship, and a bland romance, most closely resembles 2008's ignored What Doesn't Kill You," argues Justin Stewart. "I championed Brian Goodman's small movie in Reverse Shot because it overcame this potentially drab blueprint with understated acting and resourceful action scenes. The Town, too, has moments, though fewer, during which you forget the its generic nature, but because it of its celebrity director and the presence of a Mad Men hunk and a Gossip Girl, it'll receive far more attention than What Doesn't Kill You, which has been forgotten (even despite my championing!)."
"There's not a role here that could have been played better, not an actor, including the much-dissed Ms Lively, who could have been cast better (though, for old time's sake, we might have liked to see Matt Damon as Jem)," writes Michael Wilmington at Movie City News. "I think both this movie and the withering Gone, Baby, Gone prove director Affleck loves his actors and tries to do his best by them."
Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post: "The Town has a lot going for it: terrific cast, good writing, some nifty psychological reversals. But the best news is that Affleck makes it all move."
Tasha Robinson interviews Cooper for the AV Club.
Updates, 9/18: Gone Baby Gone "was imperfect but admirably intense, and captured the clannish, claustrophobic atmosphere of author Dennis Lehane's Irish-American Boston neighborhoods convincingly," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "But I detect troubling signs of celebrity malaise in Affleck's new film, The Town, which you can't even describe as more of the same. It's less of the same."
"What ultimately kills The Town," argues Slate's Dana Stevens, "is the notion that Ben Affleck is a criminal mastermind, a bank-robbing prodigy with a crack team of thugs at his command. We don't want Affleck the mastermind, we want Affleck the meathead."
Coverage of the coverage: Venice and Toronto 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.