Starring: Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall
Directed by: Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”)
Written by: Ben Affleck (“Gone Baby Gone”), Aaron Stockard (“Gone Baby Gone”), Peter Craig (debut)

As impressive as actor Ben Affleck’s directorial debut was in 2007’s “Gone Baby Gone,” there is still a lot to be desired in his follow-up film “The Town,” a taut but mostly formulaic crime drama set in Boston with hints of deep-seated tension that never really boil over long enough to take seriously.

Along with his duties behind the camera as director and co-writer, Affleck stars in the lead role as Doug MacRay, the leader of a four-man banking-robbing crew who don’t seem to spend as much time planning out their capers as much as they do dodging across their Charlestown neighborhood with cops in pursuit.

In the opening scene of the film, Doug and his band of masked men, which includes his good friend James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), clean out a bank vault and scare the hell out of pretty bank assistant manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) by taking her along for a post-robbery ride only to drop her off unharmed when the coast is clear.

A romantic relationship between Doug and Claire follows soon after when Doug begins to trail her to make sure she isn’t giving the cops information that can somehow link the crime back to him and his boys. A flirty run-in at the Laundromat and a lunch date later and Claire is smitten. It makes less sense as their courtship continues and Doug and Claire have to make decisions when the truth is finally revealed.

John Hamm (TV’s “Mad Men”) stays two steps ahead of everyone as FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley who quickly fingers the thieves with some smart detective work, but can’t close the case without concrete evidence. Other characters like actor Chris Cooper as Doug’s imprisoned father and actress Blake Lively as James’ wired sister and Doug’s former fling fall victim to Affleck and co-writers Aaron Stockard and Peter Craig’s storytelling woes.

There is more to these characters than our trio of screenwriters would like to have us believe. Renner shows the most range with a bit more edge and controlled rage than the rest of the cast. Affleck, too, keeps a tight grip on his role and doesn’t allow it to become too similar to heist movies of the past.

Overall, Affleck’s sophomore picture “The Town” isn’t without its flaws, but the performances and strong direction play a good equalizer for the narrative issues and unexceptional Boston setting.

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