Novelist Dennis Lehane calls forth Boston neighborhoods with words, giving name to every boozy joint and dirty tramp that was ever stained by a drop of whiskey. In his books, an epic sadness hangs in the dank, smoky air and creeps beneath the skin as the words enter the brain through alternating whispers and screams. Clint Eastwood found Shakespeare in the heart of Lehane's Mystic River in the twisted deeds men of a certain sense and honor commit.
As a writer/director of Gone Baby Gone, the latest Lehane adaptation, Ben Affleck shoots and speaks with a native's tongue. His stride down the back alleys is purposeful and the very here and now broken beats and broken rhymes of Boston's familiar cadences flow from his characters because so many of the extras call this place home.
And who better to star in Affleck's film than his younger brother Casey, another Boston boy, with wild eyes and features, at once too young and too old for the troubles he's not only seen but also contributed to in one way or another?
When Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a neighborhood private investigator who, with his partner and better half Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), gets dragged into the case of a missing girl with a drugged-out mother (Amy Ryan), we see how everyone recognizes how easily this dirty angel-face walks among the riff-raff.
It is a marvelous turn, made more wondrous for readers of the novel who would certainly have expected an older version of Kenzie since Gone Baby Baby is the fourth in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. Casey Affleck shines under the direction of his older brother, so much so that he nearly compensates for the less-than-stellar work of Ben's adaptation, which dulls the sharp edges of the story's investigation.
Crime procedurals are less about whodunit than the process of determining the reasons why and how certain characters fall while attempting to toe the moral tightrope.
Lehane's series depends on the exchanges and unspoken history between Kenzie and Gennaro, but screenwriter Affleck failed to include Gennaro in the mix. Fortunately, he finds a way to one-up Lehane in his thought-provoking final scene that feels like it should have come from the novel.
Ben Affleck's first directing effort goes into the night, baby, but by saving the best for last, it hangs around long enough to make a workmanlike case that it shouldn't be so quickly forgotten.
Is it ever right, in the interest of security to abuse the rights of one citizen to protect the lives and said security of the many? And how often is the information gained from interrogation used to successfully thwart attacks on innocent targets? What percentage makes those efforts worth the abuses?
Conservative hawks would lead us to believe that such tactics work every time, while the other side would argue that these means never achieve the right ends. And so Rendition, the latest film this season that attempts to dramatize the infinitely complex situation in the Middle East and our reactive response, begins with the apprehension of an NYU-educated Egyptian national named Anwar El Ibrahim (Omar Metwally) flying from South Africa to Washington and his transport to North Africa for interrogation.
The questioning of Ibrahim is overseen by Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a green CIA analyst, and conducted by Abasi Fawal (Yigal Naor), a foreign national with Intelligence who finds himself in the middle of a personal crisis concerning his missing daughter (Zineab Oukach). On the homefront, Anwar's pregnant wife Isabella (Reese Witherspoon) seeks assistance from a liberal Senator's aide (Peter Saarsgaard) to put pressure on the Terrorism Unit director (Meryl Streep in Cheney-Bush mode complete with Southern accent).
Working in conjunction with a spot-on ensemble, Oscar-winning South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) spins a web of post-9/11 Constitutional intrigue and preludes to action reminiscent of a Tom Clancy adaptation with Gyllenhaal in the Jack Ryan role (or shades of the more recent Peter Berg actioner The Kingdom). Hood weaves in interpersonal threads echoing A Mighty Heart before surprisingly binding the audience in a sticky and haunting trap revealed in a lyrical climax that transcends the standard procedural heroics and the new-world realities of fear-mongering.
Rendition doesn't definitively answer any of the opening questions, but Hood gives us compelling reasons to leave them open for lively debate.
Gone Baby Gone grade: B-; Rendition grade: A-