When a little girl disappears from her mother’s house in a neighborhood in a low income section of Boston, local private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is hired by the girl’s aunt (Amy Madigan) to augment the police investigation. The investigating officers are none too happy at this intrusion, though their animosity begrudgingly gives way to respect when Kenzie is able to uncover some leads they weren’t able to simply based on his relationships with the neighborhood’s residents. However, what Kenzie discovers heads him down a path that will bring him into conflict with high powered individuals on both sides of the law and test his relationship with his personal and professional partner (Michelle Monaghan).
For his first time as director, actor Ben Affleck has turned in a surprisingly well-crafted film. The camera work is solid, never devolving into the flashy tricks that serve no narrative purpose that seem to characterize the work of so many young directors today. Affleck, perhaps because he is an actor himself, lets his cast tell the story, and they all turn in fantastic performances.
Casey Affleck gives a performance that should put to rest any thoughts that he got the role through nepotism. It is an acting job that goes beyond just reconnecting with his Boston roots, that’s just the color he brings to the character of Kenzie. He installs in Kenzie a strong moral code, one that drives his actions. He also manages to not be overshadowed by the strong performances from more seasoned actors like Ed Harris and John Ahston. Although Morgan Freeman has a role that has him only appearing in a few key scenes and more of him would be gratuitous, you can’t help but want more.
One thing that Affleck has done is take the film’s Boston locales and turned the city into a character in and of itself, perhaps the most important character in the movie. A native, Affleck uses the city in the same way that Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen has used Manhattan, capturing the grit, desperation and pride of its lower income neighborhoods. As co-writer of the film’s screenplay – with Aaron Stockard, adapting the novel by Dennis Lehane – Affleck captures the voice of the city, displaying a great ear for the rough-hewn language of his characters.
If there’s any fault to be found, it’s in a brief moment at the beginning of the film’s third act where the film briefly shifts from the point of view away from Kenzie to two other characters, tipping the hand on a plot twist that would be more effective if it hadn’t been spoiled. However, the film’s other third act revelations are well setup earlier in the film without taking the audience away from Kenzie’s side.