This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
There's a scene in Ben Affleck's "The Town" that expertly exploits the conversations we have with film characters. In critical moments, we urgently send mental instructions to the screen. Let me set up such a moment here. Doug cares for Claire. There's something she mustn't know about him. If she should see the tattoo on the back of Jem's neck, she would know everything. Jem unexpectedly joins Doug and Claire at a table. With hard looks and his whole manner, Doug signals him to get the hell away from the table. So do we. Jem is a dangerous goofball and sadistically lingers. He doesn't know the tattoo is a giveaway.
If a film can bring us to this point and make us feel anxiety, it has done something right. "The Town," Affleck's second film as a director, wants to do something more, to make a biographical and even philosophical statement about the culture of crime, but it doesn't do that as successfully. 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.
There are two fairly extended scenes in the film, for example, during which bank robbers with machineguns exchange fire with a large number of cops. My opinion is that when automatic weapons are used by experienced shooters at less than a block's distance, a lot of people are going to get killed or wounded. It becomes clear in "The Town" that nobody will get shot until and/or unless the screenplay requires it, and that causes an audience letdown. We feel the story is no longer really happening, and we're being asked to settle yet once again for a standard chase-and-gunfight climax.
I believe Affleck, his writers and their source (the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan) know better, and their characters deserve better. But above a certain budget level, Hollywood films rarely allow complete follow-through for their characters. Consider the widespread public dislike for this year's best crime film, George Clooney's "The American." People didn't want a look into the soul of an existential criminal. They wanted a formula to explain everything.