Judge Dennis Prince can only roll his eyes as he watches these young actors miscast to act like big people.
Our review of Gone Baby Gone, published February 12th, 2008, is also available.
Everyone wants the truth…until they find it.
"It will leave you talking for days."
Let the court record include this pull quote extracted from the testimony of one Rachel Smith, film reviewer of Fox affiliate station KVVU. This court is cautioned, though, not to jump to this judgment, until all evidence has been thoroughly examined in the case of Gone Baby Gone.
Facts of the Case
When a four-year-old girl is kidnapped from her Dorchester, MA apartment, her aunt (Amy Madigan, Winter Passing) seeks the help of a local pair of young private detectives, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ocean's Thirteen) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, The Heartbreak Kid). Although they're familiar with many of the residents of the area, the young investigators find themselves unwelcome with the brash police detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) and the steely-eyed police captain, Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman, Batman Begins). The two stay the course, however, with little help from the girl's mother, the drug addicted Helene McCready (Amy Ryan, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), and unwittingly step into the middle of a perverted and twisted trail that leads them to the underbelly of the Dorchester community. In the end, their investigations will lead them to a truth too stunning to have been anticipated and too complex to easily resolve.
It's clear from the facts just given that the purpose of Gone Baby Gone is simple: it presents a moral dilemma to modern America that questions whether it is best to do what's right or, by contrast, whether it's right to do what's best. In a society of unchecked legalism that can impose heavy burden upon its citizens through its laying on of laws, its all too apparent that it has subsequently become increasingly ineffective in impressing upon the populace to opt for a life of goodness and wholesomeness that said laws were likely argued to guarantee. Caught up in its own aspirations of imposed "rightness" while effectively marginalizing those who would challenge its lofty, though likely self-serving, intentions, the legal culture has certainly spawned more lawlessness than if it had attempt to guide with a caring hand rather than an iron fist. And, in the confrontations that opposing sides would engage in, someone is likely to be caught in the crossfire or, perhaps even worse, forgotten and discarded entirely. Here, the discarded are the children.
Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel, actor-turned-director Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor) partnered with co-writer Aaron Stockard to bring Gone Baby Gone to the screen. As his first work behind the camera, Affleck shows he has undeniable inclinations to oversee a production and has an eye for dramatic storytelling that can only be expected to improve with subsequent endeavors. Unfortunately, this is a first-time effort and it shows. While the material is certainly gripping and the mission to impart a sobering message is mounted with obvious zeal, a string of key miscalculations, likely indulged for sake of convenience, discredit the result beyond rescue.
The choice of Casey Affleck, brother to director Ben, is a mistake. While the younger sibling can certainly act and shows admirable ability to embody a character fully, he's simply not the right choice for the role of Patrick. When the distraught Beatrice fears the police will not succeed in their professed assurance to find the missing Amanda, it's practically laughable that she would turn to the undersized and under-aged Affleck for reliable results. Joined by his associate girlfriend, as played by nubile Miss Monaghan, the two look like they should be sipping sodas at the local multiplex rather than burrowing into the dangerous drug-laden underworld of Dorchester, MA. Then, when recognizable Ed Harris, as Det. Bressant, shows his grizzled and growling demeanor at first encounter with the for-hire post-pubescent private detective, it's unreasonable that we would believe he would actually serve as cohort to their investigations.
Clearly, young Affleck is out of his league with this material. While he might seem acceptably formidable in a younger crime-drama setting such as was found in Alpha Dog, he's entirely unbelievable in this authentic Dorchester realm. To watch him confront and threaten the imposing drug lord, Cheese (Edi Gathegi), it's stupefying that the calculating criminal doesn't cap young Affleck's ass on the spot. Similarly, when Affleck begins to inquire into the affairs of Bressant and others, its unlikely that he could do so entirely unscathed. This is a deal-breaker in regards to the suspension of disbelief proposition the film puts forward, it asking for more than we are prepare to accept. This is a shame, really, because there is plenty of good drama and gritty realism on display here. The supporting actors are fine in their performances and the authentic location shooting adds a distinct mood to the situation. And while this court does not wish to appear to harsh in it's isolating of young Affleck in subverting an otherwise capable production, these are the facts and his offense, unfortunately, is guilt by association.
Now on Blu-ray, Gone Baby Gone again suffers inconsistency in the presentation of its petition to this court. The image itself, offered by way of a 1080p / VC-1 encode and framed at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, generally looks good and would normally be praised for maintaining a very film-like appearance…if this were a standard definition DVD. As a high-definition product, however, it fails to live up to the standards set by others in its Blu peer group. While the production design is obviously muted and restrained in its color presentation, it is the lack of intense detail that gives us pause to wonder if this is just and upscaled 480p exhibition. The grain that would usually be pleasing in recreating the film texture tends to annoy with its inconsistency of presence, sometimes light but other times distractingly invasive. Additionally, black levels are inconsistently managed with several instances of crush evident, another standard compression by-product that has been proven to be non-problematic to the new format. The audio fares better in that the PCM 5.1 Uncompressed track fully exploits the potential of a largely subdued sound design. There is excellent clarity of the dialog, front anchored, while a stream of subtle ambient effects emerge from the various surround channels. When gunplay erupts, however, the impact is jarring—as it should be—in a way that the low-end channel leaps into action unannounced while the high end perfectly recreates the recoil and casing ejections with impressive realism. Also notable is the competent presentation of composer Nic Harcourt's moody score.
Additional evidence, presented by way of bonus features, provide this court more to ponder yet, unfortunately, are not substantive enough to sway favor in the rendering of judgment. A commentary between director Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard is rather stoic and stilted, intent, it seems, to convince this court of the new director's skill when looking through the camera lens. While previous commentary tracks with Affleck, the actor, have demonstrated a more relaxed and engaging manner, this one seems undeniably self-aware and perhaps even nervous. This, of course, affects the credibility of Affleck's testimony, leaving us to wonder why he's so self-conscious such that he'd stick to matters of production technique and technicalities. Deleted and extended scenes are offered for our consideration yet they offer little more that had already been presented in the core testimony. Within these is an extended ending that does little more than provide a voiceover that does more harm than good to the unforeseen conclusion. Two short featurettes follow, one with director Affleck providing tour of his hometown and the other focused on casting the film, especially the various extras. Trailers for other Blu-ray releases, also presented here, only detract from the case at hand and tempt the ire of this court.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let the record be clear that young Casey Affleck is capable and even to be admired for his acting abilities. Equally, Miss Monaghan is similarly compelling to behold as Michelle. The two strike an interesting chemistry that would be well suited for a setting more appropriate to their age though certainly not to be wasted on the sort of twenty-something dreck that too often besmirches young talent through pandering teen drama to even younger audiences. But, the two are out of their element here and both are advised to invest in more age appropriate roles until they can truly have earned a few authentic lines in their faces.
In the end, it appears that unabashed nepotism has tainted the defendant's case beyond a reasonable doubt. While some might find emotional appeal that elder Affleck has coddled his younger brother in this, his directorial debut, the fact is that the potential fortunes of the other actors involved has been negatively and severely impacted by this lapse in judgment. This court finds no fault with Casey Affleck, his personal character not under direct scrutiny here. It does not question the impressive skills and accomplishments of notable associates Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. And, it does not intend to call into question the directorial abilities of elder Affleck. However, this is a classic case where the whole does not equal the sum of the parts and admonishes director Affleck to take better care if such an opportunity might present itself in the future. As Mr. Affleck has a rather checkered past in front of the camera, this court would be disappointed to see the hopeful director similarly misplay his hand behind the camera—that could be considered criminal.
Case dismissed on grounds that this offense amounts to little more than temporary public nuisance. Move along, then, as there's nothing noteworthy to see here, not even the touted twist ending. And, as to whether you'll be talking about this one for days, it would seem unlikely that any interest could be sustained after the echo of this gavel has faded from this courtroom.
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