If you caught the trailer for The Town when it first hit theaters, you no doubt noticed the line, “from the acclaimed director of Gone Baby Gone“. What they didn’t tell you is that the director is none other than Ben Affleck. It’s not that the studio is ashamed of him, he just didn’t have the clout yet to sell a movie on his own.

Now he does.

The Town (which Affleck also stars in and co-wrote) is a brilliant movie in the spirit of Mystic River andThe Departed. Alternating between a powerfully engrossing drama and a high-tension shoot-’em-up flick, it’s destined for ‘classic’-ness as a movie that showcases spot-on performances from every single member of the cast.

Affleck is Doug MacRay, a big-time Boston bank (and armored car) robber who’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis. He’s the leader of a Charlestown-based crew that prides itself on pulling off high-stakes crimes in what we’re told is the bank robbery capital of the world. But he’s also starting to realize it’s time to leave it all behind.

Nice idea, but first there’s the Cambridge bank job. The gang’s loose cannon is Dougie’s best bud, Jim Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), who recently finished a nine-year murder stint. Never one to play it safe, he’s perfectly happy to smash someone with the butt of his AK-47. This time around he also decides to grab a hostage, and Bank Manager Claire (Rebecca Hall) is the un-lucky lady.

They drop her, blindfolded, at the side of the road, but not without taking her license so they can go back later and make sure she didn’t see anything. When Doug finally catches up with her in a laundromat, he realizes the (profound) error of his ways and asks her out for a drink.

What follows is a gripping, totally engrossing thriller– Jim slowly realizes that his buddy (and meal ticket) is going soft, and Doug launches into a double-life– bank robber by day, charming companion to former hostage by night. Meanwhile, through all this, the FBI is hot on their trail, led by Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm).

The Town quickly becomes a showcase for Hamm and, even more so, for Renner. They each give powerhouse performances and should be given serious consideration when the Oscars come around (along with the movie itself). Renner’s slow burn is a far cry from his Oscar-nominated performance in The Hurt Locker, but it’s no less thrilling. And Hamm’s measured, menacing role in the cat-and-mouse game is more than enough to keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits.

In the end, though, this is Affleck’s film in every sense of the word. The script occasionally wanders toward hokey-ville, but Affleck’s performance, both on screen and in the director’s chair, more than make up for it. From no-holds-barred car chases and shoot-outs to an amazingly well-choreographed conversation at a local café, there’s not much that can be improved on.

The next time he directs a movie (and there will be a next time), the trailer will assuredly mention Affleck by name.

He certainly deserves it now.

4.5/5 stars