- Rated R
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All photos © Miramax Films
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
or what it’s worth, Ben Affleck has always been a behind-the-scenes kinda guy. Though his good looks and charming personality eventually led the Boston native to pursue a career in front of the camera, Ben has always been more successful behind it. His best work to date remains his collaboration with pal Matt Damon on “Good Will Hunting,” and though many have been clamoring for him to return to the writer’s desk for years, it’s taken nearly a decade to answer the call. Of course, Ben Affleck probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of moody crime dramas, and while his latest screenplay – an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel, “Gone Baby Gone” – is far from a stellar achievement, it’s his dual role as the film’s director that ultimately proves why he still belongs in the business.
Younger brother Casey stars as Patrick Kenzie, a private detective who’s been living in the same Boston suburb all his life. Joined by girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan) in tracking down missing persons for a living, Patrick’s business is wholly dependent on his rapport with the locals – many of whom refuse to speak with the cops. So when four-year-old Amanda (Madeline O’Brien) disappears one night while her druggie mother (Amy Ryan) is out getting high, the kid’s aunt and uncle (Titus Welliver and Amy Madigan, respectively) hire Patrick to circumvent the investigation and find the girl.
Boston police chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) would rather Patrick doesn’t get involved in matters he has no experience with, but he plays nice and assigns him a pair of detectives (played by Ed Harris and John Aston) to help with the case. The search for Amanda seems futile until Patrick discovers new evidence that suggests a Haitian drug lord (Edi Gathegi) may be responsible for the kidnapping, but when things take a turn for the worse during a promising trade-off, Amanda is seemingly killed. Still, Patrick is haunted by the shaky details of that night, and as he begins to peel away the lies and deception surrounding the case, he discovers a whole new conspiracy involving the moral implications of kidnapping the girl.
Speaking of morality, there’s quite a discussion to be had by the end of the film, and though it’s not necessarily the filmmaker’s intention to make it the all-encompassing lesson of the story, there are quite a few characters whose motives should be questioned. Of course, just who those characters are depends on your view of the argument, and while it may seem like Affleck is clear on his beliefs by the film’s conclusion, a final scene suggests that the argument may be a little more complicated. If this sounds anything like “Mystic River,” it’s because the films share a lot of similarities. Both movies are based on novels by Dennis Lehane, both take place in Boston, both involve the disappearance of little children, and both have an ending that many won’t see coming.
Does that mean that “Gone Baby Gone” is just as good as “Mystic River”? Well, not exactly. For all the similarities that they share, they’re also completely different monsters. While the latter showed how emotion and a simple misunderstanding could fuel the absolute destruction of a childhood friendship, the themes in “Gone Baby Gone” run much deeper. This doesn’t make it more complex, but it does make it a much easier story to film, and though Ben does a fine job in his first trip behind the camera, he’s got a ways to go before reaching Clint Eastwood status.
Still, he has a great eye for storytelling and an excellent understanding of the area, and though the story begins to unravel in the second act (a fact made only more obvious by the film’s strong opening), Affleck pulls things back together for a humdinger of a finale. Even more impressive is that he was able to recognize his younger brother as the better actor of the two, and though Casey Affleck will probably never experience the superstar career that Ben did in the late ‘90s, he’s got a better resume that will only grow stronger in the years to come.
Also delivering another fine performance is Ed Harris as the veteran detective, and while it’s still early in the race, it could even garner a Supporting Actor nod down the road. The movie itself doesn’t quite have the award potential that many believed it would, but it’s still a commanding piece of cinema that deserves the sort of attention a Best Picture nominee might receive.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Buena Vista has never been one to deliver knockout DVDs, and the pattern continues with the single-disc release of “Gone Baby Gone.” Highlighted by a dull and spotty (but ultimately satisfying) commentary with writer/director Ben Affleck and writer Aaron Stockhard, the DVD extras also include 17 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a short making-of featurette (“Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck”), and another focused entirely on casting the film (“Capturing Authenticity”).