Gone Baby Gone
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written By Dennis Lehane
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Once in a while a film comes along that leaves you confused about what you think about it after its over, struggling to weigh the many highs of it vs some staggering lows. Such is the case with “Gone Baby Gone”, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut starring his younger brother Casey.
GBG tells the story of a 31 year old private detective named Patrick Kenzie, hired by a frantic grandmother to augment the police investigation of a missing girl. Monaghan, as his partner Angie, immediately refers the case to another investigator, perhaps realizing before Kenzie that this piece of work might be a little much to deal with. She would turn out to be correct, as the case goes deeper and deeper to a nearly insane, morally ambiguous degree that could possibly ruin Kenzie’s career and personal life.
It’s difficult to point out exactly where GBG goes wrong without revealing things, which is why this is a potentially spoiler review. I can’t tell where to put most of the blame, Affleck’s direction or Lehane’s source material, but to some degree they both share responsibility. “Gone Baby Gone” survives on the strength on the majority of the films sense of authenticity, grit, and incredible performances (at least for the most part) from Affleck, Harris and Amy Ryan. At one point I felt it reminded of the excellent HBO program the Wire, aided by the presence of “Omar” from said show. When Harris and Affleck face off after a gunfight both succeeds and goes awry, it is stellar. When Monaghan and Affleck chase down the supposed kidnapper, it is jarring. When Affleck shows his balls (no, not literally, this isn’t Eastern Promises) in both a bar and a Haitian’s hideout, it is cool. It’s also intermittently funny in a dark way, usually through the sub-par mothering of Amy Ryan’s character Helene. Affleck manages to showcase some decent cinematography which seems to be better than it is thanks to a number of fantastic shots.
Affleck also has an excellent sense of highlighting Boston’s inner class structure, up to the same par as Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (also written by Lehane). Where Affleck, and Lehane as well, fail, is when they sacrifice much of the authenticity with some overly farfetched storyline developments, which are not aptly handled in the film’s direction.
The viewer is almost tricked into thinking the film is ending – twice. After this, it begins to unfold into a police conspiracy with enough moral complexity to make you think what you would do after it is over, and asks you to take sides. Unfortunately while the film can keep you guessing and entertained, the last act makes jumps I simply cannot accept. Morgan Freeman’s character, who disappears in the middle of the film, returns with a development that doesn’t seem to be very well thought out, nor that plausible in being created in the first place. There are of course hints to his motives early in the film, however they were not developed well enough (or presented with enough conviction by Freeman, who is coasting here) to take seriously. Several reveals near the end of the film are done in a condescending flashback manner that gives away too much, or at least lacks the subtlety of much of the film.
So while “Gone Baby Gone” may have disappointed overall by going more than a little too far, it is an extremely watchable film with good questions that I can mildly recommend. – Goon
Recommended If You Like: Mystic River, The Pledge, The Wire