Despite a surprisingly good performance in last year's Hollywoodland, Ben Affleck, the star of Pearl Harbor and Gigli, is by far not the best actor on the face of the Earth.
Affleck won an Oscar several years ago, not for his in-front-of-the-camera skills, but for his efforts behind the camera. For his directorial debut, Ben realizes his strengths and stays behind the camera and substitutes his younger brother Casey Affleck as the star who in many other roles before this one tremendously outshined big brother Ben as the better thespian.
Sadly, Casey's character in Ocean's Thirteen is a whole lot more interesting a one than his character here, if only because Casey as a private detective named Patrick Kenzie really has nothing much to do. Besides whining about the moral ambiguity over killing a child molester toward the end of the movie, as well as flexing a little cowboy-gunslinger mojo in a wholly overly dramatic bar scene, Casey Affleck does really nothing beyond just sitting around and listening to a bunch of Boston southies curse like drunken sailors and verbally bitch-slap him for his youthful appearance.
Even the action in a chase scene is deflated by the fact that the guy Casey's character Patrick runs after has already been fatally wounded. And, in a scene where they're all at the top of a cliff, it's Patrick's girlfriend Angie who jumps off the edge into the water to save the little girl, not him, so unless he's willing to pack on a bit more muscle mass, I don't think anyone is going to confuse Casey for an action star any time soon.
Casey does deliver a pretty powerful speech at the end that for a minute makes you forget about that annoying Boston accent. Somehow, I was able to ignore it in Good Will Hunting when his brother utilized it but not here, probably because that 1997 movie didn't have so many ridiculous plot twists.
Literally, the ending to this film was so convoluted that once the ultimate truth was finally revealed, I hung my head in shame. This is it? This movie is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. Lehane is the same guy who wrote the book Mystic River, which became an Oscar-winning film. Here, Lehane and in turn writer-director Ben Affleck really don't go the distance the way Mystic River did. For example, the decision that Casey's character has to make at the end is nowhere near as personal or powerful as the decision Sean Penn's character had to make in that 2003 film.
Intellectually, you understand the decision, but emotionally I wasn't feeling it. Yes, a child was kidnapped, and yes I'm sure everyone's inner racist is supposed to struggle with the horror of a pretty little white girl in the arms of a crusty old black man, but really why should we care? The choice to return the kidnapped girl is obvious and doesn't really resonate in the opposite direction despite Angie's last second assertions that it should.
In light of recent films like 2006's The Departed or 2007's American Gangster with Denzel Washington, the idea of corrupt cops and the inner city criminal drug culture clashing with each other is not new ground and certainly isn't compelling or offered any new angles here.
If director Affleck had bothered to spend less time on his brother and give more screen time to exploring the character of actress Amy Ryan, who here plays the little kidnapped girl's drug addicted mother, or Morgan Freeman's character and more of his story, maybe I would have cared more. But, no.
Ben Affleck is among a slew of actors who have became first-time directors in 2007, which includes Sean Penn, Ethan Hawke, Alan Cumming, and Julie Delpy. But, if Ben wants to aspire to be as great a storyteller as some other actor-turned-directors like Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood, the director of Mystic River, Affleck may need to go back to film school.
One Star out of Five.
Rated R for violence, drug content and language.
Running Time: 1hr. and 54 mins.
Showing at 7PM on Sunday, Jan. 20 and Wednesday, Jan. 23.