By all accounts far more personable and charismatic in real life than in the string of soulless, explosion-driven actioners (see Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Sum of All Fears) that have heretofore defined him as an actor, Ben Affleck takes another assured step toward career rehabilitation with his directorial debut. Coming off last year’s award-winning supporting turn in Hollywoodland, short-lived role in ultra-violent cult flick Smokin’ Aces and cameo in pal Kevin Smith’s Clerks II, Affleck steps behind the camera to direct a murder mystery that grapples intelligently with big questions.
Brother Casey, in a languid performance that belies a hard edge, stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private eye who, with girlfriend/partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan), reluctantly agrees to join the investigation into the disappearance of a little girl in the rough South Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. It’s a difficult case—the pair’s employ by the child’s aunt isn’t universally welcomed by family members or the cops; the girl’s mother is an uncooperative drunk and drug addict; and, it increasingly becomes apparent, the outcome likely won’t a happy one. Even more devastating, Patrick’s chance for redemption is thwarted, and ultimately tough choices are made to ambivalent results.
Boston native Ben Affleck demonstrates a palpable affection for his hometown and its residents with a slick production that nonetheless doesn’t smooth the neighborhood’s rough edges—poverty, filth, ugliness. With authentic lingo, he and co-writer Aaron Stockard’s deft adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) makes exactly the right changes for the big screen. Moviegoers unfamiliar with the plot going in may struggle with the film’s structure: Slightly episodic by necessity, the story’s arc can be difficult to anticipate but keeps the mystery intact. But the dilemma posed in the end—having less to do with the end justifying the means than the other way around—is satisfyingly unresolved.
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Amy Ryan
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenwriters: Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard
Producers: Alan Ladd Jr., Dann Rissner and Sean Bailey
Genre: Mystery drama
Rating: R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
Running time: 114 min.
Release date: October 19, 2007