I already knew Ben Affleck couldn’t act. I’m still trying to decide if he can direct. He did manage to write a pretty good screenplay — some of the dialogue was a little awkward in places, but otherwise he did all right there, even without Matt Damon to help him. He had a good place to start, at least; I haven’t read the novel this movie was based on, but I know Dennis Lehane writes some pretty good stuff.
But let me back up for a minute. Casey Affleck can act reasonably well, and he’s the star of the piece, playing private detective Patrick Kenzie. He’s lived in the same Boston neighborhood all his life, and now he and his girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan, still trying desperately to live down The Heartbreak Kid) run a detective agency specializing in missing persons. I’m not sure why they gave him a partner, really… Angie’s there for many of the actual detecting scenes, but she says and does so little they could have taken her out entirely without ruining anything. So practically speaking, she’s just his girlfriend, and there she does a pretty good job with what really isn’t much of a part.
Anyway, the brother and sister-in-law of an old school friend of Patrick’s show up early one morning to hire him. Amanda, their four-year-old niece, has been kidnapped, and after three days the police have no solid leads. Angie’s against taking the case, but Patrick wants to, and you know he’ll win because he gets higher billing. And Patrick is aparently the person to hire for this sort of thing, because he knows everyone in the entire neighborhood. As more of Amanda’s mother’s sordid past is revealed, a local drug dealer becomes a prime suspect in the disappearance, and Patrick knows him. Patrick also knows his right hand man, a couple of other more “upscale” drug dealers, half the locals at the greasy tavern down the street, and a good portion of the police force as well.
|Patrick detects, and Angie wonders where all her lines have gone.|
The drug dealer (a man of Haitian origin who, for some unexplained and possibly inexplicable reason, goes by the nickname Cheese) initially denies knowing anything about the missing girl, but later changes his tune, and it’s about then that all hell breaks loose.
It’s also about then that the plot turns from something straightforward into a tangled mess. I sorted it out all right, but you really can’t let your mind wander here. Some cops begin to take center stage — there are a couple of places where it’s easy to forget about Patrick because other actors have taken over the screen. Of course, when the actors are Morgan Freeman (as police captain Jack Doyle) and Ed Harris (as police detective Remy Bressant), it’s easy to get pushed out of the way. Heck, I don’t think I’d even mind being pushed out of the way by them.
I’m going with three and a half idols. I’m kind of astonished that I’m ranking it that high, because quite frankly, I went into the theatre not expecting much. Maybe I’m just being too hard on poor Ben Affleck. I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but I’m still just reeling slightly from Daredevil. And Pearl Harbor. But he did all right here. The film’s got a good feel to it — good as in realistic, because in the end there isn’t much good left in anyone or anything — and is pretty edgy in a very effective way. Like We Own the Night, it’s a shock when shots ring out, and just about everyone seems like someone you could meet at the local grocery store — though that’s not really a very comforting thought. And it asks awkward questions — Patrick’s still basically a good guy at the end, but neither he nor the audience knows if he’s done the right thing. Or even if there was a right thing. So yeah, definitely very realistic, for better or for worse…