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Gone Baby Gone
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ben Affleck Almost Makes Up For "Surviving Christmas"
4 stars

In the past, the sight of an actor deciding to expand his or her artistic horizons by branching into direction used to be a thing to fear. Sure, the early days of cinema featured such talented multi-hyphenates as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and in recent years, Clint Eastwood has transformed himself from one of the biggest movie stars on the planet into one of the most acclaimed directors but for the most part, when one thinks of actors tapping into their inner auteurs, what usually pops into mind are such world-class turkeys as Eddie Murphy’s “Harlem Nights” and William Shatner’s “Star Trek V.” Recently, however, we have seen a recent upsurge in quality films from directors better known for their work before the cameras–the last few months alone have given us such impressive works as Todd Field’s “Little Children,” Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepard,” Joey Lauren Adams’ “Come Early Morning” and Sarah Polley’s “Away From Her.” To that list, we can now add “Gone Baby Gone,” a film in which actor/tabloid staple Ben Affleck does such a surprisingly effective job behind the cameras that someone unfamiliar with him would be hard-pressed to prove that this film marks his first time in the director’s chair.

Based on the best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote “Mystic River”), the film plunges us into a working-class Boston neighborhood that has been turned upside-down by the disappearance of the four-year-old daughter of Helene McCready (Amy Ryan), a bombed-out woman who lives in such a constant fog of drugs and alcohol that she barely seems to notice or care that her daughter has been snatched. Fearing that the local police aren’t doing enough to find the girl, her aunt (Amy Madigan) hires a pair of local detectives, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), to “augment” the investigation by seeing if they can pry any information from the kind of locals who aren’t inclined to spend much time talking to the cops. This doesn’t particularly thrill the local chief of police (Morgan Freeman) but he recognizes that they may be able to help after all so he allows them to continue with their work and hooks them up with the two cops (Ed Harris and John Ashton) in charge of the investigation. As Patrick and Angie delve into the increasingly dark and twisted byways of the case, it quickly becomes clear that nothing about it is as it seems to be and that almost everyone involved knows a lot more about the reasons behind the seemingly motiveless snatching of the girl than they are letting on.

As a director, Affleck (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Stockard) does make a couple of rookie mistakes here and there–a key scene set at a quarry, a moment from which all of the events of the last third of the film derive from, is put together in such a confusing manner that it is almost impossible to understand what is going on (granted, confusion is meant to be part of the scene but few will be able to figure what our heroes are supposed to believe what happened, let alone what really happened) and he isn’t quite able to sell the utter implausibility of the final scenes–but for the most part, his work is more than credible. He is able to take the kind of scenes that would challenge even veteran directors–the kind that involve no visual pyrotechnics other than the sight of a couple of people sitting in a room discussing questions involving personal and professional ethics–and keeps them from turning into the kind of blah expository material that often drags down movies of this type. He also does a good job of evoking the look and feel of the Boston neighborhood where the action takes place–frankly, he evokes a more convincing portrayal of the area than Clint Eastwood did with “Mystic River.”

And like many actors-turned-directors, Affleck knows how to get together with his actors to get the best possible performances out of them. Although they may seem a little too young and fresh-faced for their roles, Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are quite good in their respective roles–the former is as strong here as he is in “The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford” while the latter gets to demonstrate all the talent that was utterly wasted by the Farrelly Brothers in their wretched remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.” Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman overcome some of the questionable plot developments involving their characters with their sheer professionalism. However, the most unforgettable performance is the one turned in by Amy Ryan as the missing girl’s distressingly disinterested mother–this is a character that could have been turned into the kind of loathsome and one-dimensional dolt usually seen on Jerry Springer but she manages to find enough of a glimmer of humanity within the monster to add another level of complication to the final scenes.

“Gone Baby Gone” is a strong and surprisingly effective crime film that is more interested in the ethical dilemmas faced by its characters than in plugging them into an endless series of chase scenes and gunfights. For Ben Affleck, a guy who has gotten more than his share of bad press over the years (not entirely without justification, as anyone who saw “Surviving Christmas” can attest), it should come as a particular triumph. After years of coasting through second-rate films and a tabloid-ready personal life that threatened to completely overwhelm him, it is clear with this film, not to mention his work as George Reeves in last year’s “Hollywoodland,” that he is finally ready to recommit to his career and challenge himself as an artist. Based on his work here, it is obvious that he is up to that challenge.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16688&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/19/07 00:30:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/14/20 morris campbell solid crime thrilller 4 stars
8/02/11 brian Intriguing story, but too many implausible plot contrivances and actors sleep-walking. 3 stars
6/07/09 R Lan Extremely well acted film that poses a great ethical question. Also Ed Haris is the man! 4 stars
5/18/09 mary m The foul language was too much and took away from the story. I did like casey Affleck 2 stars
4/25/09 Anonymous. almost perfect. :] 5 stars
4/09/09 MP Bartley Superb acting and direction overcomes implausible last act. 4 stars
11/22/08 CTT Excellent until hard to swallow final half hour 4 stars
9/07/08 Carol Durbin really great movie, had you guessing the whole time. Loved it! 5 stars
8/13/08 mr.mike One of the strongest mystery/twist endings in some time. 4 stars
6/11/08 Jayson I felt bad after. Which is good. 4 stars
5/25/08 Danny Really makes you think. Definitely worth seeing. 4 stars
4/22/08 Quigley One of the best films of 2007. Not to be missed. 5 stars
3/24/08 Monday Morning The ending "twist" wasn't in the book and the book was MUCH better. 3 stars
3/24/08 Ben Affleck's Hairpiece Casey was not believable. Accents were terrible. Twist was good. 3 stars
3/08/08 R.W. Welch Okay most of the way. Denouement is hard to buy. 3 stars
2/17/08 gcc 1st half well done, ending totally unrealistic though 3 stars
2/13/08 action movie fan much f word and confusion-occasionly interesting but too slow 2 stars
2/09/08 Samantha P Casey Aflleck was awesome in this movie!!! Ben did a great job directing! 4 stars
12/27/07 BertRito Solid drama. Casey Affleck brilliant. 5 stars
10/25/07 Bert Kaplan powerful, provocative, but not predictable 5 stars
10/24/07 Criddic Ben and Casey Affleck both excel with this film. 5 stars
10/24/07 AJ Muller Totally phenomenal. Great cast, story, direction. Close to perfect. 5 stars
10/23/07 Jon Awesome film. Loved the ending and the question presented. 5 stars
10/22/07 Ole Man Bourbon Good first half, then gets pretty silly. 3 stars
10/20/07 I saw it last night It was worthy. Rise of a talented filmmaker 5 stars
10/20/07 Jesse Harrison Just got back from the theater haunted by this film. Incredibly well done. 5 stars
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  19-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2008



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