The Review: Ben Affleck has been somewhat derided over the years, but his best contributions to the world of movies have undoubtedly been from behind the camera. For years, his Oscar-winning writing collaboration with close friend Matt Damon was viewed as a one-off, but then his genuinely impressive directorial debut Gone Baby Gone marked him out as a director to watch. Affleck the actor has always been more of a mixed bag though, so there was bound to be a fascination in seeing what Affleck the director could get out of Affleck the actor.
The results are certainly more to the credit of Affleck the director, who again shows that he can deal with action and drama with equal aplomb, and as with his debut knows how to get the best from his actors. Affleck comes across as believable both as the thug who’s out robbing banks and the goofy guy who gets close to bank worker Rebecca Hall (who’s also excellent) to see how much she knows. He’s again managed to surround himself with a solid ensemble, including Jeremy Renner as the more loose cannon member of their crew, Jon Hamm as the FBI man chasing them down and the likes of the always dependable Chris Cooper and Pete Postlethwaite in small but crucial roles.
So there are no complaints at all about the actors, but the rest of the movie is not without fault. First off, the story feels just a little generic, been-there-done-that, and when a Boston crime movie has walked off with a Best Picture Oscar in the last five years, unfortunately you are giving yourself a high standard for comparison, and that’s also reflected in the slight lack of energy – while there’s meat in the drama scenes and the action is solid, the shift between the two and the pacing somehow feels off and saps everything of that spark that would take this from good to great.
Gone Baby Gone also stood out because it posed some fascinating moral conundrums and the story went in unexpected directions. While this doesn’t take any unwanted avenues, it is also eminently predictable and you end up watching more for the performances than anything else. That makes it worth a watch, but it also leaves it feeling slight when it could have been weighty, and you’ll struggle to remember too much about it after the lights have gone up. Affleck the director is still a talent to be reckoned with, and Affleck the actor shows his strengths here; sadly his co-writer credit is the weak spot this time, and let’s just hope he gets better material to work with next time he’s behind a camera.
Why see it at the cinema: The action scenes are thankfully not in the jittery Bay-cam style, but if anything the movie could stand a little more action and a little less conversation. Still worth a cinema visit, but not essential viewing.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: Much consternation was made about last year’s Foreign Language Oscar. For once, people weren’t able to moan about the main award as it was generally accepted the right decision had been made, so most of the contention occurred around the decision to ignore A Prophet and The White Ribbon, not to mention Ajami and The Milk of Sorrow, and give the award to an unheralded Argentinian film. Seemingly most of that contention arose out of the fact that few people had seen it, but both Jacques Audiard and Michael Haneke’s movies were being touted as modern classics. Surely we couldn’t have been blessed with a third in the same year?
This, as it turns out, is certainly fit to stand in the same company. It’s a story of regret, and being unable to gain closure on the past – a past which has a traumatic series of events at its core. Ricardo Darin plays the legal counsellor who investigates the brutal murder in the Seventies, but more than twenty years later pours his retirement into writing a memoir of the events, and finds himself slowly revisiting the events with his former department chief, played by Soledad Villamil. As the story unfolds, predominantly in flashback to the time after the murder, we are fed the details of the case, but what’s causing Darin’s Benjamin Esposito to still cling to the past so incessantly is initially unclear.
The actors are all required to play a double role here, both past and present, and all acquit themselves admirably, Darin especially not only taking on physical changes, but managing to channel both the ebullience and determination of the younger man, but also the regret, tinged with layers of sadness, of his elder counterpart. The dialogue often crackles as the investigation unfolds, men not afraid to pull their punches but also having to fight for their position. As the events play out, it’s evident that this is not as clear cut as your average American crime drama would be, as the political system puts as many obstacles in the way as the lack of leads, which gives it a refreshing advantage over other crime tales. It’s also clear that it’s not just the events of the crime that Esposito is unable to put behind him, but his unreciprocated feelings towards his superior, obvious to all of his colleagues at the time, and helping to give a deeper emotion to the events of the past.
While the screenplay is excellent, the cinematography is also worthy of mention, giving a different feel to the two eras to aid our transition, and managing one stunning single shot as the counsellors close in on their man. Throughout, there’s an ambiguity to events which allows you to remain sympathetic to the characters but still leaves you guessing about the final outcome – safe to say, when it arrives you may not see it coming. The structured narrative is also more effective, allowing the poignancy of the later events to be emphasised by the time that has passed without the closure that Esposito continues to seek. Overall, this may not quite be the equal of The White Ribbon, but it does deserve mention in the same breath and it would be hard to deny such a complete and satisfying piece of cinema the awards it’s received.
Why see it at the cinema: There’s a strong visual sense throughout the movie, but the single tracking shot at the stadium, starting way up then sweeping into the crowd and through the tunnels in a seemingly unbroken move, demands viewing on the biggest screen you can find.
The Score: 9/10