Gone Baby Gone

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

SCORE: 2.5 stars

Recommended If You Like: Mystic River, The Pledge, The Wire

  • just realized that Amy Ryan was a member of the Wire cast as well as “Beadie”

    what a completely different character. She’s really something in this movie.

  • TheSnowLeopard

    Unfortunately, because of the spoilers I can’t read your review, Goon.

    Are you part of the Film Junk team or can anyone post a review?

  • technically part of the team… a while back I posted almost as much as Sean. Unfortunately life gets in the way of the things we love :P

  • Love Beadie in the Wire (S2) and it wasn’t until much later that I realized that she had a major part in this film. Yes, there is a lot of THE WIRE going on in GBG, not the least of which is the “Integrity And Competence Will Be Punished in Institutional America” Vibe which was The Wire’s chief thesis.

    As American films go, this may be the best one of the year so far. I don’t think anyone is going to top it by X-Mas either. Between This and Zodiac and Assassination of JJBTCRF, wow. A Great year for American Movies.

  • I have to agree with Kurt on this one. GBG is going to be in my top 10 for the year for sure. I don’t think it will be number one but it will be in the top 5.

    There are a lot of movies where I dislike the flashback reveal but in this case I felt it fit in perfectly.

  • using flashbacks to reveal whats going through a characters mind is just one of those things that tends to really irk me (I think the best example of it being done poorly off the top of my head is “Ray”) – if done too much at once I take it as insulting, and I just felt GBG crossed the line with it to the point that much of it seemed unnecessary and detracted from what I was supposed to be feeling. If it had only been during Lionel’s confession, i could have left it, but the way it was handled again in the final scenes really rubbed me the wrong way. Coupled with the fact that Casey’s speech to Freeman is his worst moment in the movie, the hammy “for your consideration” moment that is nowhere near as interesting as his acting anywhere else in the movie… pretty let down there. Gotta say though, its a movie I could watch several more times, and would buy a used copy of to hopefully look past what i dont like for the sake of the rest, which really is fantastic.

    The final shot of the film is great. I mean its a little obvious message about the fate of this character, but coupled with the image of people staring at a screen while you stare at a screen, it was a little surreal.

  • This conversation continues thick and heavy over in the MoviePatron Blog:

    Beware the spoilers over there though. oi!


  • Liz

    The ending really is the weakest part of the movie, but the rest of it was so superb that I can overlook it. As per the revelation regarding Morgan Freeman’s character at the end, I don’t think it was a case of the clues not being developed enough or Freeman not really making it believable so much as the ending being just so utterly bogus in a way that I don’t think anything could have adequately prepared you for it nor made it any less ridiculous.

    Although I have to agree with Goon that the last shot is excellent, and even that last scene is enough to make up for the bizarre stuff in the Casey vs. Morgan showdown. I thought Ben Affleck walked a really tight line here in making the movie tragic without becoming melodramatic, and that last scene really exemplified that for me.

  • Just caught up with this. This is an american thriller when they are best. Although it suffers from ‘Book’, the structural intricacies I can live with, because of the strong performances and elegant direction. I was blown away in the opening credits when I saw John Toll had filmed this, and he didn’t disappoint.

    Casey Affleck may have had one too many weird shifts in his conversations, but I did enjoy the uncompromising nature of his character. Such a character is easy to root for. Some awesome beards in this as well, both Ed Harris and Lionel sported great stuff.

    The narration is weird and out of place in something like this, especially the way it was placed in the film added to the structural difficulties this film inherits from following a book a little too closely. The film also felt rather too long, but the last shot of the film almost seems to acknowledge this, and turn it into a joke on itself, by hanging for way too long on the ending frame, so that amused me and made me more forgiving towards the length that I would usually have been.

    On a sidenote, from what I’ve seen of The Wire it has the detectives constantly yapping away, an endless amount of walk-and-talks and nonsense investigating. This film is way better than that.