Film Review: Gone Baby Gone

Affleck’s choice for his directorial debut is somewhat surprising and yet makes sense at the same time. On the one hand, he is adapting the work of an author whose material has already produced a modern classic crime drama (Mystic River) so the bar is already set fairly high. To make things even riskier, he cast his brother in the role of the headstrong protagonist. Few, other than Ben, saw Casey as leading man material.

Yet the story is set in a Boston, which he is clearly familiar with, and it is that familiarity that drew him to it. This production was sort of a homecoming for the director.

It turns out that Affleck’s instincts were correct on all counts; his directorial debut delivers the goods. His choice of lighting and the types of shots he used emphasize and accentuate the blue collar grit of this Boston. We have all heard about setting being a character and this is certainly true here.

Affleck not only directs, but also co-wrote the screenplay with his childhood friend Aaron Stockard. It is not Ben’s first time doing this, as he won an Oscar (with Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting.
Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name, GBG tells the story of a pair of Boston private eyes and their search for a missing child. The mother leaves the child alone while she goes out for some fun. When she returns home, her four year old daughter is missing from her bed. While the cops are doing all they can, the girl’s aunt turns to Patrick (Casey) and Angie (Michelle Monagahan), a pair of neighborhood private investigators. She hopes the locals might talk more to them than the police. This search leads them into the drug world as well as that of pedophiles and questionable cops.

The performances are uniformly good. While I expected no less Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (Thought Mr. Harris seemed to occasionally confuse intensity with loudness), a couple of folks really stepped up and delivered. Casey Affleck, in particular, surprised me. My previous encounters with him were in the Ocean films (Ocean’s 11 and whatnot) in which he played a fairly amusing goofball. Here he leaves all that behind with a performance that should erase any doubts folks might have about his ability to play a dramatic leading role. While his Patrick is not the one I envisioned, it works just fine. The film does not go overboard to convey the hardness of his character, but there are a couple of scenes where Patrick is backed into a corner that show us he is not someone to be crossed. His performance is understated yet powerful.

I know Amy Ryan only for her role on season two of The Wire. Here, as the mother of the missing child, she is a tour de force. Her performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination, here is hoping the Academy is paying attention.

The fine acting does not stop at the top; most of the lesser characters (the various lowlife scumbags and neighborhood losers) are well defined and nicely played. These well-done minor characters give the film an extra touch of realism.

Anyone looking for a popcorn thriller or run of the mill cop flick might want to skip this movie. Yes, there is a crime but GBG is more about morality and the choices we make in life. It points out that not everything is as simple as right or wrong, and that all of our decisions have consequences. The moral complexity of the script is extremely impressive.

One especially powerful scene finds Patrick giving in to his emotions and killing a pedophile. The police and even Angie praise him, but his own conscience torments him.

Are good intentions enough?

As a big fan of the book, I was both curious and apprehensive about how the film would differ from the source material. While there are some very noticeable changes (mainly in characters), none of them hurt the story and some likely aided in the transition to screen. Overall, Affleck has stayed faithful to the spirit of the book, including the ending.

The ending remains controversial, and is one that will likely have viewers disagreeing as to whether or not it was the right choice given the circumstances. Nobody is going to walk out of this film with a spring in their step or a smile on their face. Frankly, any movie that provokes thought or evokes a strong emotional response is one step above most.

Overall, GBG is a very good film. The acting is constantly strong and the feel is very blue collar. It would have been all too easy to gloss this up, but Affleck stayed loyal to both the novel and his childhood community. For that, we can all be thankful because it is a big part of what makes this film so damn good.

Jeremy Lynch