For his directorial debut, Ben Affleck returns to his native Boston to present a crime thriller about child abduction, paedophilia and ultimately the ambiguity of moral values and the human conscience. Clearly intended to be viewed as a dark human drama as much as a crime thriller, the genre from which many of the film’s strategies and techniques are borrowed from, Affleck has succeeded in winning himself critical and artistic acclaim that has eluded him since Good Will Hunting set him up as one of Hollywood’s next major talents over a decade ago.
The story is set in motion when a young girl goes missing and the police make little in roads into the case, causing the family to turn to a pair of private investigators with strong ties to the local neighbourhood. Their investigation takes them to the depths of the area’s underbelly as they encounter corruption, violence and depravity that sorely tests their commitment both to the case and their inherent moral values.
While the opening is highly effective, with the atmospheric realism of the setting and some fine underworld banter drawing you into the story and setting up a myriad of plot possibilities, it short changes itself as the running time wears on. This is a film committed to exposing a messy, chaotic world and this impulse leaks into the narrative during the film’s middle stages as the plot threatens to unravel from the labyrinthine journey intended. Add this to the fact that nearly every scene is intended to be an emotional tour de force, the genuinely dramatic and thought provoking finale is robbed of the build up it so richly deserves.
It is not surprising that an actor cum first time director would choose such an approach and frame it within a realistic, natural shooting style and it does make for some impressive performances. Casey Affleck makes a play for the next Leo DiCaprio in the lead role, Amy Ryan is capable of inducing both pity and disgust as the junky mother of the missing child and Ed Harris is the best he has been for a long time in my personal favourite out of any of his work.
Finally, kudos Ben Affleck for giving the audience a piece on child abduction and abuse without playing it for gory shocks or as a melodramatic urban tearjerker. It’s safe to say he has more potential as a director than actor, which isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment. Well, maybe a little.