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Worth A Look: 34.55%
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5 reviews, 25 user ratings

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Gone Baby Gone
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by David Cornelius

"Awesome, baby, awesome."
5 stars

Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are private investigators, the heroes of a series of novels from Dennis Lehane. They specialize in missing persons cases, and they are successful because people will talk to them in ways they will not to the police; like most of those Patrick and Angie must interrogate, they have lived their lives in the same tight corner of Boston, where everybody knows everybody, or at least think they do. It’s a lot easier to gain someone’s trust when you went to high school with a brother, a neighbor, a close family friend.

This sense of community lingers over every scene of “Gone Baby Gone,” the fourth book in Lehane’s series and the first to be adapted into a film. That the movie has been directed and co-written by Ben Affleck, his first feature in such a role, may seem like either a warning or a gimmicky selling angle, depending on your point of view. On the contrary, Affleck’s work behind the camera is so self-assured and so knowing that this marks the arrival of a brilliant new voice in cinema.

Affleck feels like the right choice to tackle this project. His love for Boston has not changed in the decade since “Good Will Hunting,” and this appreciation for such a tightly knit area is essential to the story itself, and to those in it. Its very Boston-ness is what makes it click; the tone of “lived on the same block all my life” just doesn’t seem to fit in the same way. The same vibe was used to great effect in “Mystic River” (another Lehane adaptation) and “The Departed,” and here, Affleck, with a flawless feel for neighborhood, actually improves on those works. Just take a look at the initial establishing scenes, which show a laid-back Boston afternoon. With just a few shots of ordinary people doing ordinary things, accompanied by brother Casey Affleck’s hushed narration, the older Affleck sets up the next two hours with airtight efficiency and glorious ease.

The film opens with the kidnapping of the daughter of a drug addict; the police are dutiful in their investigations, but too slow, and so the girl’s family asks Patrick (played by Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to lend a hand. This is more than the couple is used to, and although they take the case (mostly out of a sense of neighborly obligation), they are fully aware that their job will now take them into places they don’t want to go. After all, it’s one thing to hunt down a spouse who’s skipped town, but who wants to be the one to find a dead child in the bushes?

In another movie, this would be enough - the story is packed with colorful, dangerous characters, with truths buried under half-truths buried under quarter-truths, and the way Patrick and Angie uncover all of this makes for thrilling stuff. Indeed, this is the best straight-up mystery to come along in years, the cinematic equivalent of a gripping page-turner. We’re easily lost in this labyrinthine world of dirty cops and vicious criminals, and Affleck finds the right level of grit to coat the entire tone of the piece.

But the screenplay (Aaron Stockard shares scripting credit with Affleck) is not content with making this merely about plot. “Gone Baby Gone” finds its way into the hearts of the characters themselves, and into the very morality of the situations in which we find them. The film ends with a killer of an ethical quandary, which, in non-spoiler terms, can be boiled down to: is it better to do something very wrong if it could lead to something good, or to do something right even if it could lead to something bad?

The entire film could be summed up as an ever-shifting debate over the very definition of right and wrong. And watch how the script and the cast revel in teasing us with the issue. Some scenes put it right up front, like the brilliant monologue from the crooked Detective Bressant (Ed Harris at his most mesmerizing) in which he defends a time he planted evidence; other scenes bury the movie’s themes off to the sides, in the pockets or behind the cold stares of the story’s supporting cast.

Which brings us again to matters of community. What Affleck gets right more than anything else is a sense of reality - there's never a moment that feels inauthentic, which is important when it comes to presenting this compact neighborhood. Affleck has created a world that lives and breathes on its own terms, which is important, as it allows the convolutions of the plot to feel permissible. These aren’t cheap story gimmicks but genuine surprises born from this reality.

Affleck’s flawless direction and scripting are then enhanced by what could be the year’s best ensemble cast. Dependable names like Harris, and Morgan Freeman are matched scene-for-scene with lesser known actors Titus Welliver, Trudi Goodman, Edi Gathegi, and Slaine. Familiar faces Amy Madigan, Mark Margolis, and John Ashton shine in minor roles. Monaghan and the younger Affleck effortlessly bring their leading roles to life, making for an authentic couple along the way.

Indeed, Affleck’s turn here is spectacular, holding the story together with amazing ease; it’s easily the best performance in his young career, a carefully honed interpretation built on restraint.

And, of course, all the things you may have heard about Amy Ryan are true. Ryan, a longtime character actor and stage veteran, has raised countless eyebrows in her breakthrough performance as Helene, the drug-addicted mother of the kidnapped girl. Watch what she does with the role; instead of hamming it up, Ryan digs deep and finds the humanity in this weary woman. She never appears to be reaching for the spotlight, and yet she earns our attention in every frame.

Working with such a perfect cast in such an elegantly crafted world, Affleck then allows himself the room for his story to rattle around in ways that dig under our skin. “Gone Baby Gone” is a masterful work, going beyond the boundaries of simple detective thriller and into the realm of intelligent, morally complex drama.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16688&reviewer=392
originally posted: 01/03/08 12:11:54
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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

8/02/11 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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