It's tough not to root for Ben Affleck, a genuinely likable guy who has risen from indie-film outsider to become a major Hollywood star, and now seems partway through a mid-career shift behind the camera. His first feature as a director, the dark 2007 crime thriller "Gone Baby Gone," was imperfect but admirably intense, and captured the clannish, claustrophobic atmosphere of author Dennis Lehane's Irish-American Boston neighborhoods convincingly. 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.
For one thing, the material here -- a screenplay written by Affleck, Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, based on Chuck Hogan's novel -- is closer to a mediocre, generic imitation of Lehane than to the real thing. "The Town" refers to Charlestown, another of those Bah-sten nay-buh-hoods where guys with pseudo-Celtic tattoos and too much silver jewelry stand around and talk in unnecessary expositional detail about how they grew up together and love each other's drunken moms and dads. Check out my last name -- I am personally aware that such places and people still exist. It's still an act of odd, racially tinged nostalgia to focus so lovingly on the diminishing white-ethnic criminal class amid the much wider range of evil available in 21st-century America.
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