Ben Affleck, whose acting can go from real good (Hollywoodland) to gag-me (Gigli), showed what he could do as a director in 2007's Gone Baby Gone, meaning craft a gritty crime saga minus the slime of mainstream formula. Now Affleck, 38, kicks it up a notch with The Town, a gripping human drama disguised as a blazing heist film that comes on like gangbusters. His kid brother, Casey Affleck, 35, handled the acting in Gone Baby Gone. But with Casey off making his directing debut with I'm Still Here, Ben takes the star spot in The Town as Doug MacRay, a Boston bank robber whose daddy (Chris Cooper, stingingly good in just one scene) is now in prison for doing the same thing.
Doug and his crew, including Gloansy (the Irish-American hip-hop MC Slaine), Desmond (Owen Burke) and the hotheaded Jem (Jeremy Renner), prowl the streets of Charlestown (the Boston nabe that has bred more bank robbers than anywhere in the U.S.) like the homeboys they are. On jobs, organized by the deceptively benign Fergie Colm (the ever-superb Pete Postlethwaite), the gang members wear masks (they look particularly fetching as nuns).
The Massachusetts-bred Affleck shoots on location and gives the movie a lived-in feel that Gloansy would call "authenticious." But atmosphere alone wouldn't cut it if the deft screenplay Affleck wrote with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard didn't dig past cliché to touch a raw nerve. The emotional heat hits sizzle when Doug falls for Claire (Rebecca Hall), a bank manager his crew took hostage and then released. Jem, thinking Claire knows something, wants her dead. Doug wants her to live with him in the hope that the career in pro hockey he screwed up with drugs can find fresh form inside the law.
Affleck and Hall make this unlikely love story palpably moving. And Renner (The Hurt Locker) is dynamite — he radiates ferocity and feeling. Affleck excels with actors, from a very un-Gossip Girl Blake Lively as the trashy townie to Mad Men's Jon Hamm, who totally aces it as Frawley, an FBI agent with as many kinks as the perps he chases. For visceral impact, Affleck really steps up to the plate with the climax — a sensational heist at Fenway, Boston's baseball mecca. It's fair to say that Affleck knocks it out of the park.