Gone Baby Gone, review

Ben Affleck’s directorial debut might be nearing the ten year mark, but does that diminish the power and effecting ability as a director the actor holds over his audience with his kidnapping thriller Gone Baby Gone? Although this might be a rhetorical question, in an attempt to swiftly get ones point across, the answer would be no. Stylish in ways, underplayed in others, and with a narrative and lead performance that genuinely stays with you following the end scene, Affleck’s mastery behind the camera is seen so prominently with Gone Baby Gone, and that mastery continued with Argo and The Town – both of which were met with acclaim.

Its not Ben we see as lead protagonist here though, it’s his brother Casey. Younger in years, yes, but lesser in talent? Not a chance. Casey is so believable in his role as PI Patrick Kenzie that the word method springs to mind and his identity as a real person is never questioned during the entire run-time. This won’t be an overly-long big-up of this fantastic film, for many of you will have already seen it – and therefore know its worth. What this will be, is a nod to a daring, intelligent and thought-provoking feature full of striking performances both in front of – and behind – the camera.

Gone Baby Gone is a straight adaptation from Mystic River and Shutter Island author Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name. Centering on two PI’s, Affleck’s Kenzie and Michelle Monaghan’s Angie Genaro, the narrative combines two stories of abduction that opens up a dark and murky underworld of police corruption and, more interestingly, the conscience that comes with right and wrong. Its not always an easy watch – in fact for the latter half, it really isn’t – but if you can overcome the difficulties of a narrative that deals with missing children, drug dealers and pedophiles, you will appreciate the starkness and originality – and importance – of Affleck’s feature.

In dealing with such an intense narrative, you need fierce performances. Affleck demands that from his cast, and they in return deliver. Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Amy Ryan support, the latter received an Oscar nod for her role as the drugged-up, alcohol-fueled mother of missing child Amanda and she certainly deserved it after creating a character who spectators both sympathise with and loath in equal measure. The ensemble are strong, and as a viewer you can never be sure who to trust – which is always refreshing amongst a flock of new releases each year that are quite predictable.

The shining star, though, is Casey Affleck. He teems with realistic emotion and heart, he is truly likeable, and he portrays an everyman – from a rough neighborhood, yet he’s worked hard to produce a successful career for himself. Kenzie is the man in the middle, connecting the residents of Dorchester, Boston, to the middle-class cops who lead the case. The underlying message seems to round out to a questionable upper-class society, and an almost forgotten lower-class who are made up of criminals and addicts, along with their neglected children.

Perhaps a little pretentious in length, but basically perfect in every other aspect, Gone Baby Gone is no doubt the Affleck brothers own gem – and a gem for critics and audiences alike.

Good Will Hunting – a classic revisited

Yesterday I re-watched Good Will Hunting, that was the second time this year and about the fifth time overall (yes, I like it a lot) Released in 1997, this film never loses its relevance or impact, and is scripted so well you cant help but be captivated by its intelligence and wit. The cast is an absolute treasure; Minnie Driver, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard and Ben Affleck all take their moment to shine, but never cramp one-another’s style, and come together wonderfully as a talented ensemble. Damon is certainly, in my eyes, in his best role here. He channels his youth and vulnerability through a hard-shell, and his naivety and heart-break are felt like a needle piercing through your heart at poignant moments throughout the piece. His relationship with Williams’ therapist Sean Maguire goes beyond patient-doctor and presents itself as a brotherhood of sorts, perhaps even a father-son union, and its these scenes that pack the most punch emotionally.

If you haven’t seen, or heard (please tell me you have) of this film, then a quick synopsis is in need. The film focuses on Will Hunting, a young man with a past of physical abuse both against him, and him to others, and a criminal wrap-sheet of epic proportions. Hunting happens to be a mathematical genius with a photographic memory, and while working at MIT on parole, proves an algorithm that only one or two people in the world could do. Skarsgard’s Professor Lambeau tutors Will, and brings in Williams’ Maguire to help him face his demons and become the best he can be. Featuring Driver as Will‘s wonderfully kooky girlfriend, and Affleck (who co-wrote the film with Damon, and has a stand-out scene telling Will whats what) as a childhood friend, we are allowed to watch Hunting as he grows, and discovers that he really can be happy in life.

matt damon as will hunting

matt damon as will hunting

Gus Van Sant (who you may be more familiar with through Milk) directs Good Will Hunting with a human depth, and touching realism. Generally, this is a simple film. There are no scenes of crazy violence or overwhelming action, and there’s no baffling plot-twists or underdevelopment of central characters; its a narrative based on people, and how some need a helping hand to find their way in life. Simplistic being the key word here, is most certainly not a bad trait. Van Sant uses this as a tool to give focus to the script and the setting of Boston; a great-looking juxtaposition between South Boston, where Will lives, and the locale of MIT, is a real visual component, and one which sets Will apart from those he has recently become acquainted with. The general message of the film, is its not about where you come from, but about being the best you can, and chasing the dreams you have. Interestingly, despite Will’s superior intelligence, its his love for Driver’s Skylar that becomes his dream, and that lends to a rather beautifully played out romantic streak (scenes of the pair in bed are filmed at close-range, making for a welcomed intimacy, but one that never feels intrusive).

On a final note, Good Will Hunting owes much of its appreciation to Robin Williams. Often known for his comedy roles, Williams shines as Maguire, a man who needs the challenge of Will’s smart-mouth and theories on life, as much as Will needs Sean’s non-judgmental and original take at counseling. Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and my word, did he deserve it. When you watch this film, whether that be for the first time, or perhaps again, look out for the scene in the park, when he teaches Will a lesson through the power of words. And its the delivery of those words, that lent to him winning that prestigious award. Good Will Hunting should be remembered as one of the best examples of wonderfully human cinema.