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Affleck directs challenging, moody "Gone Baby Gone"

by Eric Melin on October 18, 2007

in Print Reviews

One of the toughest and most intangible things for a first-time director to capture onscreen is a consistent mood or tone. In his directorial debut, Ben Affleck creates a strong sense of locale that permeates the entire story and becomes its most affecting element. It is familiar turf for Boston native Affleck, and his movie introduces a bleak environment haunted by the spectre of missing and abused children.

“Gone Baby Gone” is set in the working class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, where criminal records are as common as pints of beer. Private investigative team Patrick Kenzie (played by Affleck’s younger brother, Casey) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), who are also in a romantic relationship, get a high profile case that is splashed all over the local news. A four-year old girl is kidnapped, and the first three very important days of the investigation have already lapsed by the time they get the assignment.

casey affleck gone baby goneThey are in over their heads, but Patrick gets a lead immediately by going directly to the people he knew growing up there. The hierarchies and moral inconsistencies of local lowlifes and drug dealers prove challenging for baby-faced Patrick, but he gets a lead right away, while Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who himself has lost a child, is stymied.

Doyle then puts the couple in touch with special detectives Remy Bressant (an invigorated Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), who work with Doyle in the Crimes Against Children unit. Proving themselves worthy of the investigation is the first order of business, but all involved understand that time is of the essence.

The screenplay, adapted from Dennis Lehane’s novel by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, examines the complexities of personal ethics and revels in the gray areas. The kidnapped girl’s mother (Amy Ryan) is the model of an unfit parent, a point that the sensationalistic media misses completely. She spends more time drinking than worrying about her missing child, and some of her severely misplaced loyalties are almost unfathomable. Ryan is one of the standout supporting performers in “Gone Baby Gone,” which uses all kinds of local non-actors to lend the proceedings more credibility.

No doubt audiences will be forced to confront their own feelings about individual-versus-community responsibility after viewing this movie. “Gone Baby Gone” will start discussions among friends following the picture that could get quite heated. As the story gets more complicated, all the characters in the movie have tough decisions to make and, at the time they are made, every character is convinced they are doing the right thing.

morgan freeman casey affleck michelle monaghan gone baby goneA tricky blend of a whodunit plot and slippery social issues, the movie never feels even a little forced until the mystery portion gets fairly contrived towards the end. Director Affleck has a lot of explaining to do in the last reel, and although it is handled with proficiency, it is inorganic compared to the rest of the film.

There’s hesitancy on the P.I.’s to get involved in a potentially heartbreaking case like this in the first place. Patrick, played with significant weight by Casey Affleck, is plagued by tough moral choices from the get-go. When he makes a split second decision he cannot live with, tries to atone for it at great expense. His feeling of unease is shared by the audience for the entire film.

The case causes friction between Patrick and Angie, but much of their romantic bond is left unexplored. Perhaps this is the result of wanting to keep the film under two hours, but some more background on them would have been nice. Lehane’s novel is actually the fourth in a series featuring the crime-fighting couple, so I know there is more detail there than was portrayed in the movie.

“Gone Baby Gone” really shines, however, when it’s contrasting the self-righteousness of its characters. Strong convictions often go hand-in-hand with the desire for more money or a better life. You know there’s going to be a lot of moral ambiguity when somebody who’s not directly involved in the kidnapping could be considered the biggest villain in the picture.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 5:02 am

Morgan Freeman should be known to the world as the world’s safest black man. Its a title that someday I wish I can reach.

I will probably watch this movie sometime this weekend.

Reply

2 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 5:02 am

Morgan Freeman should be known to the world as the world’s safest black man. Its a title that someday I wish I can reach.

I will probably watch this movie sometime this weekend.

Reply

3 ChrisKnudsen October 19, 2007 at 5:02 am

Morgan Freeman should be known to the world as the world’s safest black man. Its a title that someday I wish I can reach.

I will probably watch this movie sometime this weekend.

Reply

4 ChrisKnudsen October 20, 2007 at 8:23 am

Hey you edited my comment. It doesn’t even have the same effect without the zing at the end. Ah well. I guess you lose some edge when you get old. I kid, I kid.

I am going to try to catch this, hopefully Dan in Real Life for they have a screening of it tonight, the Assassination of Jesse James, Into the Wild, 30 Days of Night, and Lust Caution (the last two, I am taking the train to Kansas City to watch)this weekend. I might miss Dan in Real Life for I think I might go to the 8pm showing of Assassination of Jesse James. Fuck that is late, though. I have some partying to do. I watched Darjeeling Limited last night and enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the better movies of the year that is for sure.

Reply

5 ChrisKnudsen October 20, 2007 at 8:23 am

Hey you edited my comment. It doesn’t even have the same effect without the zing at the end. Ah well. I guess you lose some edge when you get old. I kid, I kid.

I am going to try to catch this, hopefully Dan in Real Life for they have a screening of it tonight, the Assassination of Jesse James, Into the Wild, 30 Days of Night, and Lust Caution (the last two, I am taking the train to Kansas City to watch)this weekend. I might miss Dan in Real Life for I think I might go to the 8pm showing of Assassination of Jesse James. Fuck that is late, though. I have some partying to do. I watched Darjeeling Limited last night and enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the better movies of the year that is for sure.

Reply

6 ChrisKnudsen October 20, 2007 at 8:23 am

Hey you edited my comment. It doesn’t even have the same effect without the zing at the end. Ah well. I guess you lose some edge when you get old. I kid, I kid.

I am going to try to catch this, hopefully Dan in Real Life for they have a screening of it tonight, the Assassination of Jesse James, Into the Wild, 30 Days of Night, and Lust Caution (the last two, I am taking the train to Kansas City to watch)this weekend. I might miss Dan in Real Life for I think I might go to the 8pm showing of Assassination of Jesse James. Fuck that is late, though. I have some partying to do. I watched Darjeeling Limited last night and enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the better movies of the year that is for sure.

Reply

7 Eric Melin October 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

I have to make sure this page doesn’t turn into the Chris Knudsen Show. Too late. I kid, I kid. I will see darjeeling soon. They screened it while I was at work, the bastards.

Reply

8 Eric Melin October 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

I have to make sure this page doesn’t turn into the Chris Knudsen Show. Too late. I kid, I kid. I will see darjeeling soon. They screened it while I was at work, the bastards.

Reply

9 Eric Melin October 20, 2007 at 7:46 pm

I have to make sure this page doesn’t turn into the Chris Knudsen Show. Too late. I kid, I kid. I will see darjeeling soon. They screened it while I was at work, the bastards.

Reply

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