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Review: Gone Baby Gone, Shutter and Drillbit Taylor

By Cinema, Reviews

In 1997 two young hot­shots stunned the film world by win­ning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for their first pro­duced script. Since then, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have suffered cruel mut­ter­ings ever since: that they could­n’t pos­sibly have writ­ten such a good film by them­selves and that if they did why haven’t they writ­ten any­thing else? Added to the indig­nity is the con­stant rumour that Hollywood script guru William Goldman net­ted a mil­lion dol­lars for three weeks work punch­ing up Good Will Hunting on con­di­tion that he would forever deny it (which he denies).

In the 11 years since that win the career tra­ject­or­ies of Affleck and Damon have been pub­lic. Starring roles in block­buster suc­cesses, high-profile romantic liais­ons and (in the case of Affleck) a little bit of rehab. But there has been pre­cious little ori­gin­al cre­at­ive out­put from either party until the release of Gone Baby Gone, Affleck’s dir­ect­ori­al debut (also co-written), which reached Wellington this week.

Directing is a real test of a film­maker­’s chops. Unlike a fudged writ­ing cred­it you can­’t fake being on a set (although a great crew, DP and edit­or can often cov­er a mul­ti­tude of sins) but I’m thrilled to report that Affleck has pro­duced a work of genu­ine last­ing quality.

Based on a nov­el by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone is set in the same Boston mean streets that Will (from Good Will Hunting) grew up in. If you saw Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (also from a Lehane story) or Scorsese’s The Departed you’ll be famil­i­ar with the geo­graph­ic­al ter­rit­ory, but Affleck’s eye is even more highly tuned to the neigh­bour­hood than those masters.

Four year old Amanda has been snatched from her home while her young single moth­er (sen­sa­tion­al Amy Ryan) was get­ting stoned at a bar. The Police led by Morgan Freeman (him­self suf­fer­ing the loss of a child) are strug­gling to get trac­tion from a com­munity sus­pi­cious of uni­forms. Young private invest­ig­at­or Patrick (Casey Affleck) and his part­ner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are enlis­ted by the fam­ily to try and tease out some clues that would be unavail­able to law enforcement.

And that’s when it gets really inter­est­ing – because Affleck chooses to down­play the thrill­er (or pro­ced­ur­al) aspects of the piece in favour of char­ac­ter study and the unveil­ing of a ter­rible mor­al dilemma. And its a dilemma that remains per­fectly bal­anced right to the end where, like Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep, our hon­our­able private eye is vir­tu­ally alone, forced to live with the unend­ing pain of doing the right thing.

The pro­duc­tion line of asian-horror-remakes is still chug­ging along. The Eye (remake of a Hong Kong thrill­er) will be reviewed next week while Shutter (based on a Thai film called Shutter) has already been around a week or so. I find these things to be dread­fully tire­some for the most part, for­mu­laic and pre­dict­able. In Shutter a new­ly­wed American couple in Japan (Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor) find strange shad­ows appear­ing in their hol­i­day snaps. It turns out there’s a spir­it fol­low­ing them around, sneak­ing into their frames, spoil­ing their com­pos­i­tions. Well, their pho­to­graphy is about to be the least of their wor­ries. Shutter is laugh­able for the first two-thirds but res­cued by a well-manufactured dénoue­ment so I ended up not hat­ing it totally.

Owen Wilson has been in the news more for his men­tal health issues than his act­ing in recent months but it is worth­while to be reminded that he remains one of the most watch-able act­ors of mod­ern times and the pleas­ant enough com­edy Drillbit Taylor comes to life whenev­er he is on the screen. He plays the eponym­ous Taylor, a mil­it­ary desert­er and bum who takes on the job of pro­tect­ing three nerdy kids from high school bul­lies. The kids are pretty funny too – like the kids from Superbad, only a few years younger.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 2 April, 2008.

Notes on screen­ing con­di­tions: This is the first all-Readings edi­tion of the weekly review since it com­menced back in October 2006.