The Films of Ben Affleck
Gone Baby Gone
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone follows private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) as he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a young girl. Actor Ben Affleck makes his directorial debut here, and it goes without saying that the film is a far more accomplished and flat-out compelling piece of work than anybody could've expected. While Affleck's visual sense quickly proves to be fairly underwhelming, the actor-turned-filmmaker does a superb job of eliciting uniformly strong performances from his actors - with the eye-opening work of his younger brother certainly the most obvious example of this. The elder Affleck, working from his and Aaron Stockard's screenplay, has infused the proceedings with an appropriately slow and methodical sensibility, and it's certainly worth noting that the film does possess an unexpectedly authentic feel (some of the third-act twists notwithstanding). Ultimately, however, Gone Baby Gone is just an interesting story told exceedingly well and there's little doubt that the movie's thought-provoking conclusion is destined to leave viewers thinking and talking long after the end credits have rolled.
Ben Affleck's followup to 2007's Gone Baby Gone, The Town details a grizzled FBI agent's (Jon Hamm's Adam Frawley) ongoing efforts at taking down a crew of armed thieves - with complications ensuing as one of the criminals (Ben Affleck's Doug MacRay) finds himself falling for recently-robbed bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall). Affleck, working from a script cowritten with Peter Craig and Aaron Stockard, does a superb job of garnering the viewer's interest and attention right from from the get-go, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an atmosphere of palpable authenticity that's heightened by the cast's uniformly strong work - with Affleck himself delivering one of the most compelling performances of his career. There's consequently little doubt that the familiarity of the storyline is rarely as problematic as one might've anticipated, with the movie's slick blend of thriller and melodramatic elements handled surprisingly well by Affleck (and it certainly doesn't hurt that the director has peppered the proceedings with a number of seriously electrifying sequences). And although there's admittedly a bit of a lull in the build-up to the movie's final heist (which is, when it finally does come, undoubtedly worth the wait), The Town is otherwise a solid, thoroughly invigorating piece of work that confirms Affleck's place as one of the most promising new filmmakers to come around in quite some time.
A strong yet uneven effort, Argo follows CIA man Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) as he attempts to extract six Americans out of revolutionary Iran using somewhat unconventional methods. It's a strong premise that is, at the outset, employed by filmmaker Affleck to exceedingly promising effect, as the director, working from Chris Terrio's screenplay, does a superb job of establishing an atmosphere of irresistible authenticity - with the pervasively captivating feel heightened by the efforts of an eclectic cast that includes, among others, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston, and Kyle Chandler. The better-than-average nature of the movie's opening half hour ensures that the middling midsection is, as a result, especially disappointing, with Affleck's unhurried sensibilities resulting in a bloated vibe that's compounded by a growing prevalence of uneventful stretches (ie too much of the movie is devoted to sequences in which characters are either waiting for something to happen or plotting the climactic escape). There's little doubt, then, that Argo's third-act transformation into a full-bore thriller isn't quite as seamless as Affleck has surely intended, with the filmmaker's almost excessively manipulative attempts at generating suspense and tension subsequently, for the most part, falling flat. It's clear, having said that, that Argo does remain completely watchable from start to finish due mostly to Affleck's now-expected prowess behind the camera, with the overlong running time ultimately hindering the movie's inability to rise to the superlative heights of Gone Baby Gone and The Town.
Live by Night
Filmmaker Ben Affleck's first failure, Live by Night, adapted from a Dennis Lehane novel, follows 1920s gangster Joe Coughlin (Affleck) as he agrees to bring booze to Florida during the prohibition and subsequently finds himself battling various nefarious figures. It's rather interesting to note that Live by Night announces its less-than-engrossing intentions right off the bat, as writer/director kicks the proceedings off with a rote, by-the-numbers opening stretch that's rife with overly familiar elements - which essentially (and effectively) paves the way for a progressively uninvolving narrative (ie there's nothing for the viewer to latch onto here, for the most part). Affleck's obvious skill behind the camera ultimately can't compensate for a screenplay that's lacking in interesting characters or a compelling storyline, with, in terms of the former, Affleck himself trapped within the confines of a dull, one-dimensional figure that's shockingly devoid of charisma - thus ensuring that the heavy emphasis on Coughlin's relationships with two women, Sienna Miller's Emma and Zoe Saldana's Graciela, proves somewhat disastrous (ie it remains hopelessly impossible to work up an ounce of interest in these couplings). And although Affleck has peppered the picture with a handful of exciting action sequences, Live by Night builds to an almost astonishingly tedious third act revolving mostly around Coughlin's interactions with a local religious figure (Elle Fanning's Loretta Figgis) - with the complete ineffectiveness of such sequences emblematic of the wrongheaded nature of the movie as a whole.