October 28, 2007

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck's acting abilities have often been the punching bag of critics and movie fans alike. He is an easy target for the potshots, and to his credit he seems to take it all in stride and keep moving forward. Well, it appears that he just may have made the best decision of his career. Ben has stepped off camera and shown us all that he was paying attention to all that was going on behind the camera. Gone Baby Gone marks Ben's big screen directorial debut and it is a wonderful thriller that dives right into the murky world of moral ambiguity and emotional distress with complete confidence in the material, the script (which he co-wrote), and his cast which features his younger brother, Casey, in the lead. It also doesn't hurt that the source material is his favorite book that was written by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote Mystic River which was turned into a film by another actor turned director, Clint Eastwood).

As the movie opens, we are introduced to Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), a PI couple specializing in missing persons. Patrick's home and office is in the heart of the neighborhood he grew up in, he knows everybody and understands how the close knit neighborhood operates. It should come as no surprise when a four year old girl goes missing, presumed kidnapped, that those who love the little girl and disenfranchised with the police efforts should arrive on Kenzie's doorstep looking for help.

Although this is clearly not the type of case that the couple is suited for, Patrick cannot say no to the neighborhood. Soon enough he and Angie find themselves in over their heads as they attempt to navigate the treacherous waters of drug dealers and other undesirables as they try to separate fact from fiction.

To continue with a plot description would do all involved a great disservice. While this is a mystery, it is not one that is revealed with a moment of shock and awe. It is a mystery that is without a twist, but is nowhere near devoid of suspense. The story builds organically through character motivations rather than by script gymnastics. The construction and build up are entirely believable and the conclusion will remain with you long after the last credit has rolled. The climax will leave you questioning character motivations and what you might have done given a similar situation.

The performances are strong all around. Casey Affleck does not have the gravitas to be a true leading man, I see him more as a character actor (kind if like Giovanni Ribisi without the tics) but he fills this role perfectly. He has an air of innocence and inexperience, yet there is a definite feeling of world-weariness and deep attachment to the community that he grew up in. He has some difficult choices to make, and there are no easy answers. Affleck plays them perfectly, whether you agree with his methods or not. The supporting cast is as strong as well, it doesn't hurt that the cast includes Morgan Freeman as the head of a unit specializing in crimes against children, and Ed Harris as a detective investigating the kidnapping.

Ben Affleck has crafted a fine film that takes you into the lives of those invovled. It is an intimate film that does not give you every detail. The filmmakers have confidence in their material and in their audience to draw its own conclusions. It is a strong, mature work for a debut feature and it will be interesting to see what direction Ben's career takes.

Bottomline. Gone Baby Gone is a great film to spark some moral discussions post-viewing. It is also a great film on its own. It is a film that does not portray good and bad, but rather the shades of grey that exist between them. Nothing is purely good or evil. Do we get all the answers? No, there are numerous directions that the characters could go off in, continuing the idea of no easy answers. This film will draw you in and hold you in its grasp until its final moments. Definitely see this one.

Highly Recommended.


RC said...

interesting thought on casey not being a "true leading man." i can certainly see what you're saying...but he's got get better roles than Ribisi.

I agree, it was a great film. I'll be interested and hoping ben directs again soon.

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