I’ve been sheepishly avoiding Gone Baby Gone for years now. I failed to muster up any enthusiasm in Ben Affleck’s 2007 directing debut; the same Ben Affleck who was once married to Jenny from the Block, and starred in “the worst film of all time”
Pearl Harbour, Gigil. Blinded by my pig-ignorance, I forgot about Good Will Hunting, the brilliant Gus Van Sant drama that he penned with real-life best friend Matt Damon. I swallowed my pride and put Gone Baby Gone on the box. I was stunned.
Based on a novel by Denis Lehane, a writer mined for the equally bleak & brilliant Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone follows private investigators and romantic partners Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan) as they search the squalid neighbourhoods of Boston for missing four year old Amanda McCready.
With friction brewing from Amanda’s abominable, smack-addict mother Helene (Amy Ryan) and local police officers Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), the couple are dragged into Boston’s seedy criminal underbelly. It looks like hope of finding Amanda alive is being lost, with days turning to weeks, and to months. The steadfast Patrick ventures deeper into the world of dealers, addicts and child abusers trying to break the case, questioning his morals and ethical code in a dark and disturbed world.
I won’t elaborate on the narrative any further as it would taint your own experience watching it. Suffice to say, Affleck steers through the dense, twisty plot with a surprising economy of direction. Instead of hiding behind frenzied editing and grandiose technical effects, Ben Affleck endows his cast to serve the story and his audience with great tenacity.
And what a cast it is. First time leading man, Ben’s younger brother Casey is resolute and intense as the renegade sleuth. Patrick Kenzie is a very complex character, starting out as a streetwise tough guy and ending as a tenderhearted, isolated and misunderstood man. Affleck nails every scene, fearsome and charming in equal measure. His supporting cast are superb too, particularly Ed Harris in one of the best roles of his career as the distraught Detective Remy Bressant. Morgan Freeman and Amy Madigan are effective in more limited roles and Michelle Monaghan, while not given a whole lot to do, makes the most of it. The highlight is Amy Ryan, with an Oscar nominated performance as the despicable reckless mother Helene.
Although Ben Affleck’s assured direction is impressive, Gone Baby Gone‘s biggest achievement is the script he co-penned with Aaron Stockard. Set in their home city of Boston, the dialogue is authentically gritty, bordering into the pulp-fiction territory of Jim Thompson (whose adaptation of The Killer Inside Me from Michael Winterbottom contained a terrifyingly good performance from Casey Affleck too).
Casting locals as extras and filmed in the local bars and side streets, there’s a sense of urban despair and realistic portrayal of the American underclass which recalls TV’s The Wire. A textured film experience that makes the films closing moral dilemma resonate with you days after the credits roll.
Gone Baby Gone is an unflinchingly grim thriller. Rich in character and atmosphere, forthright direction and powerful onscreen performances, it makes for auspicious adult entertainment. With his third feature as filmmaker Argo receiving high-praise over at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, it seems that Ben Affleck has got the proverbial goods to go the same way as Clint Eastwood to becoming one of America’s finest actor-turned-director talents. Let’s hope he doesn’t embrace the same archaic republic political values or start mumbling to inanimate objects. We can only hope.