Gone Baby Gone (2007) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
Running time: 114 min.

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, Morgan Freeman, John Ashton, Titus Welliver, Amy Madigan, Michael K. Williams, Edi Gathegi, Mark Margolis, Madeline O'Brien, Slaine
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard (based on the novel by Dennis Lehane)

Review published December 29, 2007

The debut of Ben Affleck as director, and a very good one, working off of a script that he co-wrote, letting everyone know that his Oscar for Good Will Hunting was not a fluke.  Its based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also was the writer responsible for the very similar Boston crime drama, Mystic River.  Given how much criticism he has suffered for his acting career, Ben might be thinking from the accolades he has been receiving for this film that he might be wise to choose to work a bit more behind the camera than in front of it.  He wisely keeps his mug off screen for the entirety, with not even a cameo appearance, letting his younger brother Casey (Ocean's Thirteen, Lonesome Jim) get to shine in the spotlight.  Although Casey has been largely known for his work in comic relief characters, he delivers his finest performance in a straight role that is refreshingly subdued for such provocative material. 

The story revolves around the disappearance of a 4-year-old Boston girl, Amanda McCready, a tyke given to long periods of being left by herself by her thrill-seeking cokehead mother, Helene (Ryan, Keane).  The cops are on the case, but fearing that the girl may have been taken by any one of Helen's seedy acquaintances, who understandably would not want to talk to the cops, her mother, Bea (Madigan, Winter Passing), decides to hire an outside source, a missing persons detective, Patrick Kenzie (Affleck), and his girlfriend, Angie (Monaghan, MI3).  Working with the police department, Patrick and Angie find few leads, and as the days go by, they grow increasingly uneasy at the prospects of getting back the young girl.  With not much to go on, the investigators must look more closely at the family to see why someone might have a grudge against them, and in so doing, they might actually catch the break they have been looking for.

I probably won't be going out on a limb by stating that those who enjoyed Lehane's other notable adaptation, Mystic River, will also enjoy Gone Baby Gone for the same reasons.  Both films feature solid acting, commanding direction, a distinctly Boston backdrop, and a very good sense of history for the characters, family, and neighborhoods they all traverse in.  Although the screen time varies from person to person, one of the things that Affleck is able to bring out in Lehane's work is that each person interacts with other characters in completely different ways, just like real people do in real life.  Although not a slice of life film, one gets the sense that politics, both interpersonal and governmental, are always at the forefront of most confrontations, and it is in the richness of the presentation that Affleck finds a way to springboard what might otherwise amount to a routine child abduction drama, albeit one with a few nifty developments.

If there are missteps made along the way, they aren't from Affleck as a director, who does a solid job in actually delivering quite a powerhouse final few scenes with a real grit and energy.  So many films before come completely unglued through asking us to buy a narrative twist that reaches preposterous proportions, and while Gone Baby Gone does have one hell of an ambitious summation, the characters always stay true to form, allowing us to actually buy into the notion that such unlikely events could actually happen in the manner in which they are presented.  It raises interesting moral questions that are far from easy to resolve.  That Affleck doesn't bother trying tying it all up in a neat bow shows a rare maturity for a first-time filmmaker. 

It would be interesting to see, given that he's already following Clint Eastwood's footsteps by adapting a Lehane work, whether Affleck will make the leap and become a hybrid actor-director.  He's already won an Oscar for his writing, and though he has had a career as a lead actor that is now approaching veteran status, perhaps he will also do like Eastwood and direct many of his own vehicles from here on out.  Certainly he might do a better job of capturing the more likeable elements of his on-screen personality than other recent directors have been able. 

Gone Baby Gone is a praiseworthy film with standout performances, very good use of authentic slang and regional dialogue, and a thought-provoking argument at the core of the film about child welfare and well being.  Although the subject matter is bleak, as no one in their right mind would find a story about missing, abandoned, or murdered children to be entertaining, the tale reels you in and commands your interest from beginning to end, even through a fractured mid-section, extra endings, and an epilogue that can be read as either disappointed or hopeful, depending on how much you choose to read into it.   Sadly, people will continue to go missing, many of them children, but the compelling nature of loved ones lost and found has made inspired one man to find himself reborn as a filmmaker.  It will be interesting to see if that filmmaker chooses to make another worthwhile film for his next outing, or if he's going to go for commercial viability at the cost of credibility.  Hey, even Eastwood directed The Rookie before delivering his finest work.

Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo