2017 has been a difficult year. I’ve realized that, since the news about them broke, I have avoided all films starring Kevin Spacey or produced by Harvey Weinstein. Same goes for Woody Allen, Bryan Singer and others. I would like to say that it was an unconscious decision, but I have to confess that it was largely intentional. Used to be a time when I could easily divorce an artist’s stupid statements or antics from his or her outstanding artistic performance. The fact that Morgan Freeman appears in a Turkish Airlines ad makes him look like an idiot, but it probably won’t keep me from watching The Shawshank Redemption again. With sexual threats or abuse by Weinstein, Spacey and far too many others, a line has been crossed. I can no longer sit there and watch John Doe do his grisly work without thinking of Spacey and his crimes. So how to react? Should I really stand before my movie shelf and start throwing out Seven? The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Anything ever produced by the Weinstein Company and Miramax? All the Tarantinos? The English Patient? How do Woody Allen fans react to such abuse? Fans of X-Men or The Usual Suspects? I know, of course, that the harm done to the abused persons is not limited to the movie business, and that the damage they suffered weighs far more than the harm done to cinema and acting, but since movies are a crucial way of storytelling, at least to me, and since storytelling has the human condition at its center, I suspect that those movies will play differently to me when (if?) I watch them next time. Something, a kind of honesty in storytelling, will be lacking. Continue reading
First of all, my apologies for not updating my blog for the last two days. Things at the office and at home have been very busy, but from now on I should be able to update (practically) every day for the next two weeks. Promise!
And there’s enough to blog about, mainly the last film I watched at the cinema. Who’d have thought that Ben Affleck is so good at dealing with actors, especially after he didn’t exactly prove himself to be his generation’s De Niro? (Shades of Sophia Coppola, mayhaps…?) Gone Baby Gone is an accomplished first movie, with a brilliant cast and a wonderful set of moral grey areas to ponder for days after leaving the cinema.
For the record, I disliked Mystic River (which is also an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane, just like Gone Baby Gone) intensely. I felt that Eastwood’s film at best paid lip service to the fact that many of its protagonist did pretty horrible things, but secretly it felt like the movie was condoning especially Sean Penn’s actions: after all, Tim Robbins’ character has been permanently broken by what happened to him when he was a kid, so a bullet to the head is in effect a mercy killing, even if done for the wrong reasons, right? Several people disagree with me on that reading, but I can’t shake it.
Gone Baby Gone is clearly by the same writer, and it shares many of the same concerns, but it’s more honest in addressing the moral dilemmas its characters are in. Many of the people involved try to do the right thing – but there is no right thing, so they try as hard as they can to go for the lesser of several evils. And the film doesn’t judge, which is quite amazing considering the story that it tells and the environment it’s set in. The Bostonian “white trash” isn’t looked down at or pitied as much as it is simply observed, just like the main character Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) doesn’t judge but simply tries to do what is right himself.
Casey Affleck is almost as brilliant as he was in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I was a bit irritated at the voiceover he had at the beginning of the film, because his voice is very characteristic and very specific. Its scratchy, somewhat adolescent quality (“You want fries with that?” – yup, that sort of voice) fit Robert Ford brilliantly, but I associated it with the character, not the actor. As soon as we actually saw Affleck, I was okay with it, though. It’s fascinating to watch his fundamentally decent character trying to figure out what the right thing is. When late in the film he kills a reprehensible character who has done an utterly evil thing, he doesn’t feel good or righteous, as would usually be the case in Hollywood films.
The rest of the cast is as fascinating. Much of the time you forget that you’re watching actors, as there’s something almost documentary about the presentation of the characters. Michelle Monaghan, whom I’d never noticed as much of an actress, makes her character into more of a Girl Friday/girlfriend type; Amy Madigan is as real as always; Morgan Freeman is remarkably short on Morgan Freeman-ness (Freemanity?), his usual, very pleasant style of (non-)acting; and Ed Harris seems to have swallowed Dennis Hopper whole, which is very disconcerting.
However, Gone Baby Gone may be a riveting film, but it’s not the most enjoyable film you could imagine. It’s less ponderous and heavy than Mystic River, but it leaves you with a very ambivalent ending, where those guilty before the law may be punished – but what is legal and what is right in this film diverges quite frighteningly. And chances are that the film will gnaw at your mind for a long time.