Affleck’s 'Town' good until second to last drop

The sophomore slump can be detrimental to an artist’s career, just look at MGMT’s “Congratulations.” But for Ben Affleck, congratulations are in order as “The Town,” his second go at directing, proves “Gone Baby Gone” was not just a bit of good luck.

“The Town,” which also stars Affleck, is not a revolution in the genre of bank robbery films. If it were, it would be released closer to Oscar season.

The unsurprising and typical plot has enough entertaining nuances — mainly the cast, the characters they play and the superb pacing — that its blemishes are overshadowed.

If you didn’t know already, Affleck is from Boston, and he’s pretty proud of it. “Gone Baby Gone” took place there, and so does “The Town,” this time in the area of Charlestown. A large number of bank robbers call this small neighborhood home.

Two of those bank robbers are Doug MacRay (Affleck), the brains of the operation, and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), the unpredictable and impulsive guy who makes things complicated. They work as co-captains of a professional bank robbing crew.

Affleck’s portrayal of the brainy, working class MacRay is delightfully engaging. He does all the things required to be the bad guy, but his charisma is impossible to not eat up. Sure, he robs banks, but he doesn’t want to hurt anyone while doing it, almost giving you the feeling of what he’s doing is somehow justifiable.

For every compliment just paid to MacRay, the exact opposite goes to Coughlin.

Jeremy Renner does a beautiful job of getting us to hate this slimy weasel, who manages to go overboard on every bank job. He’s the typical guy that ends up killing someone during a robbery when the one rule the thieves have is to not kill anyone. Yeah, that guy. But MacRay keeps him around because they grew up together. Coughlin’s family took McRay in after his father got arrested and his mother left him and his father.

FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (John Hamm) is the man assigned to catch the company of thieves. Hamm, looking quite out of place in an ill-fitting suit and a hand sans cigarette (though his character often appears to be in need of one), goes at the role in a way that makes you root against what should be the good guy.

His hair is greasy, styled in a way that looks dated, and behind his piercing eyes is a deep weariness, framed by a perennial five-o’clock shadow.

The three bank robberies, representing the film’s three act structure, are meticulously planned out, giving off the impression that these guys aren’t bank robbers, they’re scientists.

Even after diligent planning, Coughlin manages to derail the first robbery and the gang is forced to take the manager of the bank, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) hostage.

Being the only person who could potentially identify MacRay and company, Keesey gets stuck in a game of tug-of-war that she doesn’t even know she’s a part of. MacRay follows her, befriends her and then, because there has to be a conflict, falls in love with her. At the same time Special Agent Frawley has a feeling her story of the robbery doesn’t quite add up and consistently grills her.

Coughlin’s sister, Krista Coughlin (Blake Lively) adds a special twist, raising what could be MacRay’s daughter while dealing a plethora of drugs — taking hefty samples of her own product. Lively gives an actual performance in the film, which is more than she’s done with any of her other work, and it’s not a bad one.

Affleck the director keeps the pace going at just the right speed, mixing violence, dialogue and humor in a way that gets you laughing, cringing and listening intently all in one scene. The violence boils down to excessive amounts of loud automatic weapons being fired, with blood a thing used sparingly and for effect.

You always want more out of the film, but then Affleck gives you the predictable, clichéd, tie-it-up-in-a-pretty-bow ending, leaving a bad taste in your mouth and a feeling of being patronized. The ending is what you leave with and thus what you remember most about a movie. With “The Town,” it’s the first thing you forget.

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