Miramax // 2007 // 114 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // February 12th, 2008
For the sake of the child.
Ben Affleck started out as an actor in films directed by cool guys like Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused) and Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy). He and best buddy Matt Damon wrote and starred in the acclaimed and popular Good Will Hunting, which won the pair an Oscar for their script. He was 25 years old, good looking, intelligent, and had the respect of his peers and fans.
In just a few short years, he became a tabloid kickball, thanks to overexposure and his romance with Jennifer Lopez. Far more damaging were his career choices. If there's a drive-in in the Eighth Circle of Hell, odds are it'll be showing Daredevil, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Paycheck, or Surviving Christmas.
The last couple of years have seen the emergence of a more mature Ben Affleck. He married his Daredevil co-star, Jennifer Garner, and they have a daughter. A supporting role as George "Superman" Reeves in Hollywoodland brought him praise as an actor.
In 2007, Affleck made his feature directing debut with Gone Baby Gone, displaying genuine talent behind the camera. Now, Miramax gives the film a solid DVD release.
Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) is a product of Boston. Born there, raised there, he'll most likely never leave there. He gets the small-town intricacies of this big city, and he parlays his familiarity with this place and its people into a living as a private investigator, partnered with his girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan, The Heartbreak Kid).
It makes sense, then, that his services are sought out by a middle-aged couple whose niece has gone missing. Bea (Amy Madigan, Field of Dreams) is convinced that the disappearance of 4-year-old Amanda is connected to the hard-living ways of the child's mother, Helene (Amy Ryan, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead). Bea doesn't think the police are doing enough to find the child, and since Patrick knows his way around the seedy bars and people of the hardscrabble Dorchester district, maybe he can find out things that the police can't.
With the tacit acceptance of the police captain in charge of the investigation (Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby), Patrick and Angie team up with a couple of tough detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris, Pollock) and Nick Poole (John Ashton, Bill's Gun Shop).
But there's already a sense that this is a fool's mission. After the first day that a child is missing, the odds of finding that child alive drop to 10 percent.
And this is day three.
Gone Baby Gone was a labor of love for the actor-turned-director. The Dennis Lehane novel that he and co-writer Aaron Stockard adapted is Affleck's favorite book. Affleck grew up near Boston, and he has a feel for the people and the place. The locations are genuine -- this is not Dorchester recreated on a soundstage in Los Angeles or Toronto, but the actual streets and bars of this working-class neighborhood. Locals turn up in small, bit, and background parts, with one non-actress, Jill Quigg, offering a brief but memorable turn as Helene's best friend.
Affleck cast his brother, Casey, in the lead, and he does a good job, though he takes a bit of getting used to. His accent, while authentic, seems a bit studied in the early scenes, and as written, young gumshoe Patrick lacks the complexity of most of the other characters. Patrick's straight-shooter idealism at times makes you question how he's survived on these streets. In one scene, he and Angie have a confrontation with Helene's drug dealer, "Cheese" (Edi Gathegi, Death Sentence). When Patrick blows up and indignantly tells off the dealer, we're left wondering why this well-connected local drug lord doesn't just have the guy popped.
Harris and Ashton are terrific as the veteran detectives, with Harris giving a particularly muscular performance, the rage of decades of dealing with inhumanity etched in every line on his face and every word that he spits. Madigan, Harris's real-life wife, is impressive in the small, but pivotal, role of Bea, with Titus Welliver (Deadwood) more than holding his own as her dim but sturdy husband.
The acting standout here is Amy Ryan as the pathetic Helene, whose grief over her missing daughter seems to come in fits and starts. Helene is trash, proudly low-life, an unrepentant sleaze, and Ryan digs herself into this woman's skin, finding the lost soul buried beneath the grime. We rarely sympathize with Helene, and both the actress and the director refuse to quirk-up the character to make her appealing. Ryan's performance is ferocious and spot-on, and as much as you'd like to look away, you can't take your eyes off her.
The search for Amanda, and a second story that runs parallel and then intersects the main story, takes up about two-thirds of the film's running time. It is in the final third that the film falters, if not derails, when this character-driven piece suddenly becomes plot driven, and characters say and do things in service of plot twists that don't defy our expectations so much as betray them.
What kicks off the gallop to the denouement is an odd slip up, a casual remark in a conversation that seems a bit out of place to begin with. Then someone else makes a head-scratching decision, which causes an act of desperation that is almost silly. These scenes, well shot, directed, and acted as they are, just don't ring true, which is disconcerting in a film that, up until this point, has justifiably worn it authenticity on its sleeve.
Finally, we get to the heart of the mystery, and we are given a scenario that is as absurd as it is thought-provoking. It addresses concerns that have been nagging us since early in the film, but it does so in a way that is contrived and fanciful and just doesn't add up given all that's gone before. It's philosophically interesting -- and the point of the story, actually -- but dramatically, it begs more questions than it answers. It's admirable that the film doesn't give us a simplistic resolve; it's unfortunate that it takes such an ultimately convoluted route to get there.
Miramax has given us a very good release. The picture is a bit grainy in some of the dark scenes, but overall is clear and true and gives us a great rendering of John Toll's superb, evocative cinematography. The audio is a solid 5.1 surround track.
Ben Affleck and writer Aaron Stockard provide a laid-back, informative commentary. Affleck is a very articulate man, and his genuine admiration for Lehane's work and his enthusiasm about "coming home" to direct the film are evident. He and Stockard also fill in a few plot holes, things the audience is otherwise left to surmise that on occasion warrant some explanation.
We also get a nice pair of featurettes, one focusing on the location, the other on the casting, and how important these elements were for creating an authentic feel for the film. While we hear from most of the major actors, it's director Affleck and author Lehane who elevate this above the level of puff piece by focusing on the heart of Gone Baby Gone, which is about the marginalization of children. Some deleted and extended scenes, with optional commentary, round out the set.
Ben Affleck has made a very good movie, and two-thirds of a near-great one. Whatever its contrivances, Gone Baby Gone is a solid, mature piece of work and well worth seeing.
Writer Ben Affleck, the court commends you for your ear for dialogue, but warns you not to play fast and loose with the plot.
Director Ben Affleck is free to go. The court is looking forward to his next project.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary by Writer/Director Ben Affleck and Writer Aaron Stockard
* "Going Home" Behind the scenes with Ben Affleck
* "Capturing Authenticity" Casting Gone Baby Gone
* Deleted and Extended Scenes with Optional Commentary by Affleck and Stockard
* Official Site
* Dennis Lehane's Web Site