As a fan of both the source novel and of Ben Affleck, I’ll admit that I went into this with my fingers crossed, just hoping that it didn’t get screwed up. It doesn’t; this is a great adaptation. It departs somewhat from the novel – the novel is the fourth in a series and in it Patrick Kenzie and Angie Genaro are seasoned pros; here they’re new to the game and their experience so far has been limited to looking for people who’ve skipped out on their creditors – but it gets the essence of the story just right. This is a film that is very comfortable with its place and with the people in it, and we come to know the rhythm of the city and the way that these people get around in it.
The plot: 4 year old Amanda McCready is kidnapped in the middle of the night. Her aunt (Amy Madigan) doesn’t think the police are doing enough to find her, so she hires Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to do some extra leg work. Pretty soon Patrick and Angie (mostly Patrick – I’ll get to that momentarily) are figuring out that things don’t exactly add up, drawing themselves into the line of fire and, ultimately, a moral conundrum.
The characters are tightly drawn and the performances are uniformly good, especially those of Amy Ryan and Ed Harris. Ryan is pitch perfect as the coked up mother of the kidnapped girl; if you’ve read the novel, you’ll think she walked right off the page and into the movie. Harris, playing the lead investigator who alternates between anger at Patrick for getting in his way, and admiration for Patrick’s ability, is very effective as the skewed moral compass of this dark and scary world. Together these two characters make a pretty effective argument for doing the wrongs things for the right reasons.
I only have two real qualms with the film, which is on the whole a solid effort by Affleck as both writer and director. First, the character of Angie. In the novels, she’s a force to be reckoned with, a tough talking ass kicker. In the film her presence is so far diminished that she barely registers. The character essentially exists to offer Patrick comfort when things look bleak and to act as a sounding board for his thoughts and theories. Admittedly the novels, like the movie, are told from Patrick’s point of view, but at least in the novels one didn’t get the sense that Angie was just along for the ride. She was always in the thick of things, starting as much trouble as Patrick does.
The other problem is the use of flashbacks, the style of which seems to have been ripped off from CSI. It is a complicated plot, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the audience needs to be reminded of something that happened five minutes ago in order to follow, and the flashbacks to things we hadn’t already seen could have been dealt with in a more effective way. As it is, they took me right out of the movie due largely to the aforementioned similarity to the CSI style of storytelling.
But these are minor problems in a movie that is overall very good. It’s well paced and suspenseful, even if you’re familiar with the book. Come Oscar time, the performance by Ryan and the screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard will hopefully be remembered and rightly honoured.