Baby Driver: the musical that wasn’t

Film

Edgar Wright first came to most people’s attention with his Cornetto trilogy: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World’s End (2013). In-between, he threw in a career highlight – the utter batshit curveball that was Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010). For lo, it contained a truckload of cool music and a baby-faced lead (Michael Cera), whose character was part of the delightfully named indie band Sex Bob-Omb.

Uber cool, and oh so fun.

He then went off to do Ant-Man and it all went tits up.

But a true measure of a person’s character is how you bounce back and, with Baby Driver, he’s come back blazing – with a crime flick he’s had brewing for quite a few years, and is quite possibly his best work to date.

The movie features a baby-faced getaway driver, Baby (Ansol Elgort), who’s prodigious behind the wheel but wants out of a life of crime. One last job and all that… However, bad boss Doc (Kevin Spacey) has leverage so Baby, for now, must play the game. Not just with Doc, but also his ragtag group of unhinged robbers, in particular Bats (Jamie Foxx) and Buddy (John Hamm) – who both can’t get the measure of Baby and suspect him of not taking this crime stuff seriously.

Hamm and Foxx are blinding casting. They practically steal the film from Elgort. But you’d expect as much. Ansol has to play the straight hero and it’s always the case that the baddest bad guys get to have all the fun.

Bats, like his name, is batty, batshit, a live wire, totally unpredictable and definitely not a team player – which begs the question as to why he’s there. But why not? He’s mad and has skills, which makes robbing banks more fun, no? Buddy, too, starts with the charm (easy for Hamm), doing his Bonnie and Clyde thing with wild wife and partner in crime Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). But he, too, is not a nice guy. Hamm plays him just on the right side of menacing and cartoonish. Close to caricature at times, but events unfold which cause him to turn on Baby in a deliciously evil way – and this arc is some of the best work Hamm’s done in years.

Moreover, inbetween burning rubber for bad guys Baby has another story. Of love, with the impossibly gorgeous Deborah (Lily James), who literally has nothing going on in her life and falls for Baby’s strong and silent shtick straight away (this only happens in the movies).

But first, he’s got bad guy stuff to do before they can run off into the sunset.

Now this may sound like I’m being cynical but I’m just poking fun.

Yeah, Wright steals a lot from loads of movies, but all filmmakers do. As long as you put your own spin on your work it can feel fresh and fun – and this film really does (96% Rotten Tomatoes). It’s also worth saying that not for a long time have I seen a film that weaves music into its fabric quite so effortlessly. It’s balletic at times and almost a musical (although there’s no bursting into song particularly).

Also, with Tarantino off the boil these days (close to retirement?) it’s left to directors like James Gunn and Edgar Wright to fly the flag for music in film in oh so delightful ways. (We can’t have Hans Zimmer do every score now, can we? And Christopher Nolan does seems to monopolise his time anyway.)

But other than music, there’s no real common ground between Guardians of the Galaxy and Baby Driver – except a sense of fun. I mean, the latter probably shares more DNA with Wright’s Scott Pilgrim and plays like the demented lovechild of Heat, The Town, Natural Born Killers and Reservoir Dogs, but hopped up on sugar, coffee and optimism.

Or Drive if it had a sense of humour. Boom.

There’s very little fat either.

Wright wrote the screenplay and it nips along at a decent pace, each character getting their moment. But Wright, smartly, keeps the focus on Baby, who’s in pretty much every scene.

And what casting Elgort is.

At the time of Scott Pilgrim I remember thinking THAT lead came out of leftfield, but turned out to be genius. I mean, who would’ve thought Michael Cera could pull off fight scenes so convincingly? And here, as Baby, Elgort is an inspired choice.

I knew little about him (The Fault in Our Stars fame and was on the shortlist for the young Han Solo movie) before this film, but reading up, he’s as much a musician as an actor. Even took ballet lessons as a kid, which makes sense, given some of the scenes in Baby Driver required, athleticism, shall we say? (And I don’t mean sex, if that’s what you’re thinking.)

His journey is interesting too. A strong and silent getaway driver (Ryan Gosling in Drive?) who connects to his past by listening to old cassette tapes (Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy?) means he’s following in the footsteps of some big actors. But he owns the role. Particularly when he could have been all but swallowed up by the bigger actors like Spacey, Foxx and Hamm swanning about the place.

Wright has talked about a sequel – which would be the first time he’s done that in his career. To me, this film feels fairly complete as a story, but I’d be open to the idea if it was a REALLY good story. The studio is keen, so we’ll see.

But if you were on the fence, go see this film. It’s so much fun. And if you were expecting a Hott Fuzz type affair, this ain’t it. Wright evolves with each film so you can’t really pigeonhole him. I’m excited to see what he does next.

The desert

Poetry

You wake on cracked earth.
Your entire body feels chapped and hurts.
What happened?
You remember drinks, cards and a casino.
Your skull feels like splitting.
Thinking back, the night had seemed slow.
You held back, drawing punters in as you got into your proper mean flow.
Palming cards and charming staff.
It was alarming how quickly things stopped being a laugh.
First you swindled some hillbilly.
Fully expecting to feel his wrath.
But he took it well, it caught you off-guard.
Then things went downhill fast.
Bleeding chips slow you decided to take a chance.
Drawing attention from the wrong sort you knew this run wouldn’t last.
So you cashed in.
Leaving the tables weaving between gleaming slot machines.
Dodging grannies as they desperately tried to live the dream.
Knowing full well you’d been cold made.
Heavies closed in as you spied the exit, their intent a bold display.

Next thing… impact and darkness.
Your conscious self floats away lost in space and its vastness.
You wake in pain.
Blows rain down in fast hits.
Then… light and sound.
You took quite a beating.
In some ways you feel mighty proud.
The casino boss looks at you, his face a contorted frown.
It’s rare he’s at a loss so you decide to double down.
No longer playing for money you’re now betting your life.
You were dead anyway so now you’re really only betting it twice.
The boss offers you exile and broken limbs.
You counter with a fair trial and a series of fake wins.
Now you’re in his pocket.
There’s no way you’ll escape him.
But, puns aside, you’ve got an ace up your sleeve.
One last hand to play and scam you’ve saved before you split and leave.

So that night you enact your plan but play it cool.
Distracting security with impersonators called Mr T as they shout ‘Pity the fool!’
Then you head to the lower levels and break into the vault.
The plan goes perfect, without a hitch at all.
Now you’re in van at the end of your scam heading for the Mexican border.
There’s guards you can bribe.
You’ll never be caught up, everything’s been thought of.
So why are you sweating?
Next thing… bam!
A truck hits and you spin hard into a wall.
Last thoughts come to you, thinking the border wasn’t far away at all.
It’s so cruel, you’ve been proper schooled.

All fades to black.
Again, you wake in pain.
Feeling like your spine has been smashed in with a spiked bat.
And you’re back to the start.
Sweating on cracked earth.
Your stomach churns, brain hurts and pride burns.
Probably no more than you deserve.
Yet part of you thinks you almost pulled it off.
Sure you got schooled, but as far as those casino con artists go, you almost fooled the lot.
If this was your last job, then it was one hell of a way to stop.

Seeking inspiration in the wrong places

Poetry

The blank page; the bane of a fledgling writer.
You stare in vain, willing your brain to dredge up an idea that lights up.
But nothing good comes.
So you sit there hollow and numb.
This part of the process?
The complete absence of fun.
When will that inspired concept strike?
As lurid day gives way to turgid night you stare out the window as birds take flight.
But still… nothing comes.
A strange rage begins to engage as you take in that hideous blank page.
What needs to change?
Your environment, yeah!
You need to get out and about.
The pub calls, so you head to the Hare & Trout.

Walking in, expecting a den of deviance laced in sin you’re greeted by tired old regulars slumped over their gin.
Somehow, you feel, this is not ideal.
No feast of inspiration but barely a meal.
So you down a few shots, turn heel and head back wobbly to the street.
Debauchery is needed.
You’re lost in thought as you walk straight into a Bobby on the beat.
In the collison you make a decision that bad things come to those that take definitive action.
So you steal his helmet in an instinctive reaction.
And perch it on your head in distinctive fashion.
The Bobby goes mad and loses his rag, much to your satisfaction.
He goes to give chase but he’s loathe to compete in your foolish race.
So he blows his whistle.

You stop, take aim, and launch the helmet like a guided missile.
It hits him full force, like a hammer and chisel.
You watch him hit the deck.
Imagining yourself the proud victor standing tall as you pin his neck.
He’s old this copper, you could take his gun and really finish this vet.
Dark thoughts swirl now and you’re drunk with power.
If this is the end then you should kick back and smoke some skunk in your final hour.
Then you snap to your senses.
In the street the Bobby gets to his feet, looking like he wants to swing you from the fences.
Like a rabbit in the headlights you’re rooted to the spot.
The image of your boot on his neck makes your survival instincts all but stop.
Then… something comes.

Inspiration blows you away like an awesome and beautiful tidal wave.
Your writer’s block caves and you’re overwhelmed, feeling brave.
The copper now advances as you flip him the bird.
You hurl abuse at him loud to make sure he’s flippin’ heard.
What a rebel.
Tonight was about inspiration and now you’re a red rag to a bull.
It’s like you’ve mainlined Red Bull.
Shots of tequila and nitrous oxide gives you cunning vision like fox eyes.
Chemicals flood your blood stream.
Feeling overloaded, like a mug you scream.
The copper looks nonplussed… as he pulls out his handcuffs.
And despite your bluster and bravado you muster the courage to follow him meekly when he says ‘Let’s go.’
And the next you know.. the cells doors slam.
But you don’t care.
The fire burns inside you, inspiration man. You’re a one-man clan.

Legend: Hardy gives us both barrels

Film

Ronnie and Reggie. They almost sound sweet don’t they? Like Bill and Ben the flower pot men. But they’re not. Far from it. Ronald and Reginald Kray were possibly the scariest two brothers you could hope to meet (or pray not to meet) in London in the ’50s and ’60s. Born identical twins in 1933, they worked their way up the organised crime ladder to become owners of nightclubs and casinos, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, politicans and high society types alike.

Quite a story you might say, it would make a good film. Well, it’s been done before. In 1990 Gary and Martin Kemp (of Spandau Ballet) had a crack at it and did ok, receiving mildly positive acclaim. Yet they never quite had the cajones or screen presence to really do these two guys justice.

Fast forward fifteen years and we get a much slicker production, bigger budget, better cast and, most importantly, a lead that is nothing but menace and screen presence, Tom Hardy. As an actor Hardy had had a few decent parts for a few years until Nicholas Winding Refn cast him as Charles Bronson in Bronson. A towering, menacing performance that not only put him on the map, but showed the world that right here is an actor with real swagger, real menace, and intensity in buckets.

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And so the parts kept coming: an unhinged MMA fighter in Warrior, Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Max Rockatansky in Mad Max: Fury Road… yet he still hadn’t really fully opened the taps. He still hadn’t showed us what he could do.

With Legend, now he has. Most actors would relish the opportunity to play a legendary gangster, but two? Well, now you’re just being too nice. Not that being too nice is something you could associate with the Krays, but if it was just ‘a hard man’ you were after you may as well call Vinnie Jones. What Hardy has done so masterfully with this film is provide depth and likeability to both Ronnie and Reggie.

You root for them (sort of). Now that’s a hard task, and a hard ask of an actor. You need endless charisma and screen presence, and you need to pull off a convincing double role (acting opposite yourself, or a stand-in or a broom or something, it must be confusing).

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In terms of story this film is based on a book by John Pearson, The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. It was written and directed by Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential fame) and focuses on Reggie and his relationship with his wife Frances (Emily Browning) and how he dealt with his increasingly volatile brother Ron.

We cover a fair amount of ground, from the start of the Krays’ rise in power to their involvement with the American mafia and British Lords and politicians. At times Helgeland veers slightly into black humour territory, particularly as Hardy gives us that wild-eyed psychotic stare that made Ron seem so menacing, channelling more than a good dollop of Bronson in the process. With Reggie he had a harder job, showing a sweet side as he wooed Frances, then turning quite frighteningly on a dime to show intense menace if something displeased him.

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In both performances he utterly convinces, sucking you in, compelling you to watch what – as either Ronnie or Reggie – he’s going to do next. The rest of the cast (David Thewlis, Paul Bettany, briefly) do a fine job, but ultimately this is the Tom Hardy show and there’s barely a second of screen time in which he doesn’t dominate.

And as far as British gangster films go, this has to be up there with the greats such as The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Layer Cake (underrated in my book). Even if you take the British bit out, this is still a gangster film worthy of that title alongside other classics from around the world. It may be a touch long and the story may lack a bit of punch (despite much punching going on) and momentum, but one cannot argue with the committed intensity of Hardy’s two performances. They’re a fair few months off but, Oscar anyone?

(Oh, and Hollywood, offer Tom more parts like this please.)

Focus: Smith and Robbie zing but the plot falls flat

Film

Will Smith is a movie star. An A-lister. Granted he’s been off his game lately, but he’s not done with the box office yet. And Margot Robbie is a rising talent and undeniably one of the most beautiful actresses working today. Sticking the two of them together in a caper about con artists seems like a good idea on paper. They can both hold the screen and chances are they’ll have good chemistry. If you can sense a but coming that’s because there is – and more than one in fact.

Films about conning are notoriously tricky these days, probably because as an audience we’ve seen it all before and this one goes to great lengths to spell out every con just in case you miss anything. ‘Remember, it’s all about focus’, Smith’s legendary con artist Nicky explains, showing raw talent Jess (Robbie) how it’s done in an early scene. ‘You focus here whilst I steal from here’, he teaches her as they dance round each other. She’s hooked. Talk about smooth criminal.

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With this sophisticated, knowledgeable guy and the raw, sassy girl you’ve got a tale that’s been told plenty of times before – often in a better way too. The Oceans films spring to mind, as does Confidence, a lesser known one with Ed Burns, Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman. Maybe the film is called Focus because our focus is drawn towards thinking this is about conning when actually that’s a backdrop and the filmmakers are more interested in the romance to drive the whole thing along. In that sense also reminds me of Mr & Mrs Smith and Out of Sight.

Plot wise it’s fairly light. Maybe light is the wrong word, predictable or pedestrian is more on the money. What we have is guy meets girl, guy teaches girl a few things and cuts her loose (not before falling for her). Guy meets girl again on a job, she causes him to lose ‘focus’ and things don’t go to plan.

Sound familiar?

There’s nothing wrong with telling the same story again, but you’ve got to put a new spin on it. Here, writer-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (who last gave us Crazy Stupid Love in 2011) don’t really push the envelope at all. You’ve got Will Smith as your lead, test his mettle. His character, Nicky, is supposed to be a legendary con artist yet the situations he finds himself in never feel that dangerous or mentally challenging. What he needed was a proper adversary, perhaps some other criminal who he’s wronged in the past or stolen his girl… or something.

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What he’s given comes in the film’s final third in the shape of the owner of a racing car team played by Rodrigo Santoro. He’s far too vanilla for a bad guy, he turns up too late in the movie, and consequently feels incidental to the whole thing. Maybe it should have just turned into a game of one-upmanship, with Nicky and Jess conning and out conning each other in a sort of twisty, seductive criminal dance.

That would have been a good movie to see. But we didn’t get that. What we got was a fairly satisfactory – but not groundbreaking – tale with some nice performances from the two leads, but in a film you’ll have all but forgotten five minutes out of the cinema.

Deluded brats: The American dream

My musings

Every few years American cinema turns its eye on its youth. Kids that have lost their way (or maybe never found it in the first place) with too much money and time on their hands they find themselves, quite quickly, in a world of idle trouble and wanton criminality.

Here are a few for your consideration, some based on fact and some fiction.

Bully (2001)
Based on the 1993 murder of Bobby Kent in south Florida, this Larry Clark film starred Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl and featured a bunch of kids hanging out and getting wasted; who then cook up a plot to murder their ‘friend’ with pretty much no thought for the consequences. An intense performance from Renfro in one of the last before his tragically early death.

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Alpha Dog (2007)
Like Bully, this film is based on a true story, this one focusing on the killing of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz in 2000. Directed by Nick Cassavetes it featured an impressive cast of up-and-comers and established names (Bruce Willis, Ben Foster, Justin Timberlake, Emile Hirsch, Anton Yelchin) and was a compelling albeit harrowing watch from start to finish.

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Spring Breakers (2012)
Fiction this time, but not wholly implausible. Directed by Harmony Korine and starring Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine as four girls on spring break – pretty much permanently in bikinis – who descend into a world of drink, drugs, guns and crime, mostly thanks to James Franco’s wannabe gangster called Alien.

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The Bling Ring (2013)
Another true tale, this time focusing on a group of teenagers who, looking to emulate celebrities, robbed their homes in 2008 stealing around $3 million in cash and belongings. Directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson this didn’t reach the heights of some of her previous work, but nevertheless was a fascinating and darkly compelling tale.

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Fargo: first season review

TV

The first season of a new show based on a film could go one of two ways… obviously. In that it could sink like a soggy souffle or it could surprise and delight both fans of the original film – directed by the Coen brothers – and bring in new fans alike.fargo-episode-4-stills-synopsis

Largely this show has, pleasingly, done the latter. Following in the footsteps of the Coen brothers is no easy task, yet show creator and writer, Noah Hawley, has done just that, delivering a dark, witty and suspenseful tale, one that’s already meant the show has scooped a slew of awards and been renewed for a second season. It’s also followed the theme of a single story arc per season. The same format that the recent – also quite brilliant – True Detective has done in its first season.

Whilst the mighty script played a large part of Fargo’s success, good writing alone isn’t enough, the cast were, simply put, rather darn good. It helps to have A-list film actors from which to draw of course. And yes, I think we can safely say that now, after the body of work he’s built up, Martin Freeman is indeed A-list.

His performance drove the story along yet… rooting for him as your main protagonist was always going to be a tall order. Freeman’s ability to come across as likeable yet unsure of himself, determined yet afraid, a man with a moral compass yet, at times, completely immoral in terms of his actions, meant that, throughout the season you feel compelled to watch him to see how he will react in any given situation.

Fans of Breaking Bad will recognise a great deal of Walter White in Freeman’s Lester Nygaard. Both are characters that, in trying to change the course of their lives, end up doing despicable things… Yet you find yourself rooting for them. In a way.
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Then you have the straight up bad guy, Billy Bob Thornton’s elusive hitman Lorne Malvo. A man that seems to have a soft spot for Lester. The two cross paths only a few times throughout the season, yet their actions ripple out to affect most other characters in the show in fairly profound ways. Thornton’s performance was loaded with charisma to the point that it reminded me of George Clooney’s in Dusk Till Dawn. Both violent men with a dark side, but allow them to turn on the charm and then sit back and watch the way they hold a room – and, by extension, the audience – in the palm of their hand.

Honorable mentions should also go to some key players in the supporting cast including: Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson (the only person smart enough to figure out the various crimes committed and doggedly pursue them to the bitter end. Our real protagonist, if ever there was one); Bob Odenkirk as kindly Police Chief Oswalt (slippery lawyer Saul from Breaking Bad if you didn’t realise); and Colin Hanks as spineless Officer Gus Grimley (another who gets a surprising and satisfying character arc come the season finale).
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Whilst show creator, Noah Hawley, has said that season two will have entirely new characters and a new story, some must surely remain? You can see stalwarts like Molly Solverson and Gus Grimley surfacing from time to time. But maybe it will play out a bit like The Wire, where the show focuses on other towns and goings on in neighbouring parts of America, occasionally revisiting old characters so they keep their hand in and thus the Fargo world expands.

Either way, this show was a nice surprise, in that I came to it with little knowledge or expectation, but was drawn in regardless. To repeat the trick for a second season will be tough, but there’s still a lot of this world for the show’s creators to explore, so we can but hope they’ll deliver.

The Place Beyond The Pines…Schenectady

Film

130412CutdownPines_7474218When mentioning that I was going to see The Place Beyond the Pines I referred to it as ‘the latest Ryan Gosling movie’, which is fair, given the trailer. However, it’s not an out-and-out Gosling movie, not entirely. I’ll explain, but first, the setup.

Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a motorcyle stunt rider who works for a travelling fairground. We start with the obligatory ‘Gosling torso shot’, then the camera follows him in one long tracking shot from his trailer through the fairground into the main tent, he then climbs onto his bike. The shot pans up to his face. He’s cool, he’s moody, he’s a modern-day Steve McQueen – a promising start.

Luke then pays a visit to old flame Romina (Eva Mendes) and learns she has a son and he’s the father. He vows to stick around and provide for them. Beyond-The-Pines1However fairground work doesn’t pay well, so he strikes up a friendship with mechanic Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who suggests he robs banks using his motorcycle skills to get away.

Needless to say he gets in over his head and crosses paths with rookie cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).  The narrative then spins in another direction following Avery’s journey. Initially I thought the film was done with Glanton’s tale, however his character’s presence is felt throughout. As the trailer states, the film is ‘an exhilarating epic of fathers, sons and consequences’, which is apt. The film explores the legacy – for better or worse – that fathers leave behind for their sons and how it affects them.

After Avery’s tale, the film changes tack again, focusing on AJ (Emory Cohen) and Jason (Dane Dehaan), the sons of Cross and Glanton respectively. place-beyond-the-pines-bradley-cooperBoth young lads put in strong performances, the former reminded me of a young Tom Hardy – an intense screen presence. The latter, Dehaan, delivered another mature performance, following his strong turn in one of the most impressive, yet underrated films of 2012, Chronicle.

Gosling can confidently add The Place Beyond the Pines to his ever-growing list of classically cool characters. Cooper, too, can hold his head high. After an exemplary performance in Silver Linings Playbook, this may be a career-high.

In terms of script and direction, Derek Cianfrance has been quite clever. You’re likely to discover more depth and meaning with a second viewing. That’s not to say those things aren’t present first time round, it’s just that, with the plot switching focus roughly each act to new characters, you spend your first viewing working things out. A second viewing should allow you to sit back and soak up the experience more thoroughly.

emorycohendanedehaanIn terms of cinematography, it looked quite beautiful. The landscape in and around the town of Schenectady (which literally means ‘the place beyond the pines’) was incredibly green, lush and fertile. Scenes were filmed in a sort of watery light and dreamlike manner, with a lot of handheld camerawork. I suppose to bring a sense of realism.

Whatever the motives, overall The Place Beyond the Pines came across as a tender, heartfelt, beautiful-looking tale with real depth – one that will mature with repeat viewings. Cianfrance coaxed sterling performances from the cast – particularly Cooper and Dehaan – and, with this and Blue Valentine to his name, I’m excited to see what he does next.

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Ben Affleck: a directorial phoenix emerges!

Film

I’ve had a disastrous morning. Not the most upbeat way to start a post, but hang in there. I dropped a full jar of honey on the floor which shattered. Honey and glass is impossible to clean up. Then banged my heel in the shower, spilt hot tea on my leg, lost half my breakfast in the toaster – the part I salvaged I managed to push off my plate onto the table with aggressive cutting!

And so, on to this post. As you might guess it’s about Affleck’s rise from the ashes of an acting career to become a directorial force to be reckoned with – much to the surprise of many. The reason for mentioning my morning mishaps is I hope this piece becomes my salvation – that I rise from the flames resplendent, with no more disasters for the rest of the day. I want to become the phoenix! Ahem, let’s move on.

So last night I watched Gone Baby Gone – another ‘been on my list for a while’ film. As expected, it’s really good. I’ve ended up watching the films Affleck has directed in reverse order, having seen The Town a while ago. Both are set in Boston and deal with crime and family. Both are brilliant – suspenseful, thrilling and wholly engrossing throughout.

gone baby goneGone Baby Gone (2007)
If you’ve not seen this, it’s a crime mystery drama based on a book by Dennis Lehane – author of two other titles that have been turned into impressive films, Mystic River and Shutter Island. The latter superbly directed by Scorsese and features a career-high performance by DiCaprio.

In terms of plot, it features Casey Affleck (Ben’s younger brother) as a private investigator hired to find a missing girl. Faced with the challenges of working with distrustful cops (Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman), drug dealers and other lowlifes – his relationship with his co-worker and partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) becomes strained as the investigation progresses. There are twists, turns and revelations and, whilst the plot is complex, it’s worth paying attention to the end.

Affleck (senior) gives the Boston setting a grittiness and believability and gets a great performance out his younger brother. Who said siblings can’t work together? I’ve had my doubts about Casey Affleck, he’s always seemed quite a closed book in terms of being an expressive actor. Now I understand his appeal. He gives a truly impressive performance, particularly showing suppressed emotion – one of the hardest things to convincingly portray for an actor. He’s also highly believable as a normal Boston guy in a tense, dangerous situation. The action never feels fake or Hollywood, a lot of this is down to Casey’s talent as much as older brother Ben’s direction.

This film suffered a little on release due to the subject matter and art imitating life, particularly in the UK where the disappearance of a girl that looked almost identical to the one in the film meant release was pushed back. This should take nothing away from it, this is a well told, well acted, well directed film – particularly from a debut Director.

Incidentally, if we’re talking Lehane adaptations, it’s worth noting that it’s less depressing than Mystic River and not as thrilling or scary as Shutter Island – sitting perhaps inbetween the two as a good, solid crime mystery. Worth your time.

The Town (2010)
Is this a companion piece to Gone Baby Gone? Maybe it should be packaged up as a Boston crime trilogy boxset with The Departed? Anyway, Affleck’s directorial debut set him up nicely to direct this tale of bank-robbing in the heart of Boston’s Charlestown – a place that accounts for over 300 robberies a year.

As well as directing, Affleck starred as the leader of the gang who decides to keep watch on bank manager (Rebecca Hall), as she could potentially identify him following his gang’s last job. As he begins to fall for her romantically he has to deal with volatile partner (the excellent Jeremy Renner) and evade capture from FBI detective (John Hamm).

the townFor me, this film had a lot of similarities with Michael Mann’s Heat, or the opening robbery sequence in Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight. At least in terms of epic, realistic gun battles in broad daylight and the cat-and-mouse game between cop (Hamm) and robber (Affleck). High praise you might say, but justified.

How Affleck found the time to act in this as well as get great performances out of a cast including Blake Lively, Rebecca Hall, John Hamm and Jeremy Renner I’ll never know. Renner was astonishing – all coiled up, explosive rage and intensity.

If you compare Affleck’s two directorial outings so far, I prefer The Town. It’s a simpler story than Gone Baby Gone, but more exciting and thrilling. Both are very good films though. Which leads us on to Affleck’s latest…

Argo (2012)
Hard for me to say too much about this as it’s only just come out at the cinema. The plot tells the story of a real life CIA mission in 1980 to rescue six American diplomats from revolutionary Iran, by posing as a Canadian film crew and staging a fake film in the country.

It’s got an interesting cast. As well as Affleck, it includes Bryan Cranston (from TV show Breaking Bad), John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Quite a departure from Affleck’s first two films, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

I’ll finish with the trailer below so you can judge for yourself. First impressions suggest it’s positioning itself as a serious thriller with comic elements. Almost like a grown-up version of Ocean’s Eleven. What do you think?