Between Right And Wrong, Absolute Justice in Ben Affleck's Beantown
The Popcorn Reel Movie Review: "Gone Baby Gone"
By Omar P.L. Moore/October 19, 2007
Contemplation: The marriage of Casey Affleck, as Patrick Kenzie, and Michelle Monaghan, as Angie Gennaro, partners in love and solving crime, in Boston in Ben Affleck's assured and impressive directorial debut film, "Gone Baby Gone", which opened across the U.S. and Canada today. (Photo by Claire Folger/Courtesy of Miramax Films)
Ben Affleck makes a stunning directorial debut in "Gone Baby Gone", based on Dennis Lehane's novel, and his brother Casey Affleck turns in his second impressive performance in the space of a month, this time as Patrick Kenzie, an overmatched but rigidly decisive missing persons detective who attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding the disappearance of four-year-old girl. The girl, Amanda, is the daughter of a most unlikable mother in Helene McCready, played brilliantly by Amy Ryan (a possible Oscar nominee in January), and Amanda's disappearance is of grave concern to Boston's Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who has lost a daughter of his own. Amanda is played by Madeline O'Brien -- and the actor's first name is particularly ironic, since a real-life Madeleine -- Madeleine McCann, also four-years-old -- has also been missing for months now, in a case that has made news headlines around the world, where other thousands of cases of missing children unfortunately don't.
Affleck's cinematographer John Toll superbly renders Boston in all its natural incarnations and its shades of menace and mundane, and as the story deepens, intrigues and twists, the locations and streets of the Massachusetts city become more personal, meaningful and mournful. Director Affleck has tapped deeply into the people, the fabric and other textures of the city that he was born and raised in -- and to very good effect.
"Gone Baby Gone" is teeming with effective performances, including Ed Harris as Detective Remy Broussard, a troubled troubadour of the Boston force, and Mr. Freeman, quietly majestic in the few scenes he has. Amy Madigan is sterling as Beatrice, adding gravitas as Helene's mother, and she and Ms. Ryan share a few unbridled moments, most of which are uttered by Ms. Ryan's character, whose mouth is in desperate need of washing with a bar of soap. Acting-wise, the more unheralded names in the film are priceless, especially in the local banter they dispense in the Boston neighborhoods, dialogue that is funny and entertaining. The only weakness in the film -- and it is significant -- is the severe under-utilization of Michelle Monaghan, who plays Angie Gennaro, a missing persons detective who is married to Casey Affleck's Patrick character. They work together as a team, but the screenplay doesn't balance this partnership nearly as much as it should, even though Ms. Monaghan's Angie has a key moment in the film's events.
The twists in the film are clever, and the screenplay (which Mr. Affleck co-wrote with Aaron Stockard as adapted from Mr. Lehane's best-selling novel) is almost air-tight, with the exception of one-too-many flashback sequences at one point in the film's second half. A potentially unnecessary subplot midway through may seem wasted, but is pivotal to the events that occur later in the film -- for one character in particular. "Gone Baby Gone" also utilizes racial politics, and many will take note of the similarities with some real-life Boston cases that have made news headlines. The director is not blind to the subtleties of the realities of race and its intersection in everyday Boston life, and he shrewdly makes use of these delicate threads in an interesting and ironic fashion.
Ultimately, the audience is literally left to sit with the weight of the decisions that are being made, and the emotional resonance of the final shot in the film is indelible. Ben Affleck's confidence as a director is refreshing. He takes chances -- and he makes lemons into lemonade. It would be too much to say that he turns water into wine, but with this film Affleck's finished produced via his burgeoning maturity in the director's chair isn't even matched by the greatness of "Mystic River", one Clint Eastwood film (also of a Lehane novel) that was very good but not as tight a narrative as Mr. Affleck's Beantown tale.
"Gone Baby Gone" is strongest and most powerful when it explores and confronts moral, ethical and legal dilemmas within the narrative -- and it does this supremely well, and without the kind of profundity and pretension that typically attends certain films from both freshman and veteran directors. The last 30 minutes of the film contains sequences of the most riveting and engaging cinema in an American film this year.
In baseball terms, Mr. Affleck and company hit a home run on the first pitch, and the director, an ardent Boston baseball fan, will be hoping that his beloved Red Sox can do the same this weekend to make Cleveland disappear.
"Gone Baby Gone" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for violence, drug content and pervasive language. The film's duration is one hour and 54 minutes. The film also features Titus Welliver as Lionel McCready and Edi Gathegi as Cheese. Ben Affleck and Alan Ladd Jr. are among the film's four producers, with Harry Gregson-Williams supplying the original music score for the film.
Copyright The Popcorn Reel. PopcornReel.com. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
COPYRIGHT 2009. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.