My thesis statement is simply this: Ben Affleck is a damn good director. Loyal readers may remember that his second effort The Town was my favorite movie of 2011. (Yes, I know it was released in 2010, but I didn’t see it until Netflix came into my life.) Then a few weeks ago I saw his third film Argo and was completely floored. It’s the kind of historical drama that makes you want to read a bunch of Wikipedia articles on the subject, not to mention talk about it to anyone who will listen.
Since I’ve watched The Town a number of times, it was easy to notice the Affleck directorial stamps in Argo. Both films begin with a highly dramatic action sequence, either a bank robbery or an embassy takeover in Iran. Then the narrative takes a step back and looks at the players involved. As a method for capturing the viewer’s attention, it certainly works on me. What sets Affleck apart from a run-of-the-mill action director is that he has a sense of balance. Violence or drama are offset by moments of humor and heart, so that the viewer never loses empathy.
After loving Argo as much as The Town, it seemed ridiculous that I had never watched Ben Affleck’s directorial debut. Last night I curled up with Gone Baby Gone. I knew that it was a gritty story about a missing child, featuring an Oscar-nominated performance by Amy Ryan.
And what was my verdict? Well, it’s not as good as the two films that follow it. That being said, Gone Baby Gone is certainly worth watching. The Affleck stamp is present but not fully formed. As always he assembles an impeccable cast, including Boston natives who have never acted professionally. The setting has the same authenticity as his other work, which he can use to both endearing and frightening ends. Now you may be asking, “What about the other brother?”
Gone Baby Gone stars Casey Affleck, younger brother of Ben. I recently watched him in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which he inhabits the titular coward with enough twitchy awkwardness to make any viewer uncomfortable. (Sorry, Northfieldians — no mention of Jesse’s defeat at your hands!) It was quite a change to see Casey playing a streetwise private investigator in Gone Baby Gone, but he pulls it off. In fact, his performance kept me engaged, even when certain plot points led to raised eyebrows.
Remember the interactions between Ben and Casey in Good Will Hunting? (“Chuck, I had a Double Burgeeeeer.”) The casual ribbing between friends makes for some of the best moments in that film. Even though Gone Baby Gone has a much darker tone, the spirit of the brothers collaborating made me just a bit warm and fuzzy. Perhaps this dynamic duo will team up again in the future.
Hey, a girl can dream.