"THIS IS THE not-fuckin'-around crew." So FBI Special Agent Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) characterizes the gang of thieves currently ripping off banks and armored cars in Charlestown, Boston—a tough, smart crew led by lifelong best friends Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) and James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner). Not that these guys are the only robbers around—in Charlestown, we're told, robbing banks is a time-honored profession. But Doug and James' crew might be the best at it; they also might get together once a week or so to watch Point Break, at least if their preference for holding up banks while wearing latex Halloween masks is any indication.

The easiest way to describe The Town might be to call it Heat meets Good Will Hunting, but the way most people will describe it is, "Holy shit, Ben Affleck's a really good director!" That won't come as much of a shock for those who saw his directorial debut, 2007's Gone Baby Gone, but it's still a weird thing to realize. After scoring an Oscar for co-writing Good Will Hunting, Affleck's downward spiral into Daredevil and Gigli and Jersey Girl didn't leave him with a lot of cred. With Gone Baby Gone, though, and now The Town, it's almost like Affleck's doing penance; based on some of the intense action sequences in this film alone, he's already been forgiven for whatever cinematic atrocities he was party to.

Not that The Town's script (based on Chuck Hogan's novel, and written by Peter Craig, Affleck, and Aaron Stockard) helps Affleck out any—the film's conclusion gets tamped down entirely too neatly, while its opening is filled with easy coincidences and soul-baring monologues. But the general concept and the main characters carry this thing: When second-generation robbers Doug and James take bank teller Claire (Rebecca Hall) hostage during an otherwise smooth robbery, things get messed up. Doug falls for Claire, the increasingly volatile James reacts in a less than supportive manner, and Agent Frawley closes in.

Quibbles aside, The Town's impressive. In addition to his strong grasp on the film's pacing, tone, and visuals (aided by the more or less brilliant Robert Elswit, the cinematographer behind Syriana, There Will Be Blood, and Punch-Drunk Love), Affleck turns in a great performance, and Renner matches him scene for scene. (Hall, as Affleck's love interest, and Hamm—better known as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's resident badass/mope Don Draper—don't get as much to do, but they're still solid.) The Town might not do everything right, but it's pretty hard to knock it—not only as an engaging action-drama, but also as a reminder that Affleck would really, really appreciate it if we'd just forget about Reindeer Games already.