Boston has been a popular setting choice in recent cinema. Mystic River and The Departed have taught audiences that Beantown itself can act as a central character. A landscape shot of the city is proving to be more powerful than that of L.A. or New York.
Gone Baby Gone has that wonderful quality. Its opening shots establish the rich, city culture and a rugged authenticity. Director Ben Affleck (you read that right) also co-wrote the screenplay for his new, powerfully engrossing drama. It appears that Affleck has been taking notes while working with all those great directors. He directs his passion piece with an original style, working steady wonders with his camera and leaving the musical score subtle.
Affleck, a Boston native, makes another good decision in casting his younger brother, Casey, in the lead role. C. Affleck has been that great actor in the background, on the sidelines, sneaking in those perfect lines. Who can forget his whining for a double burger in Good Will Hunting, or his constant bickering with Scott Caan in the Ocean films? Here Casey Affleck is a revelation. His star-making performance as Patrick, a young, fearless, private detective, is thrillingly bold. (I imagine much of the same in the upcoming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford).
B. Affleck adapts Dennis Lahane’s novel about two PI’s who have been hired by relatives of a young girl who has gone missing. Simple enough, right? The story thickens from there, with plenty of thugs, drug dealers, good cops, and bad cops to fulfill your Friday night desires.
Michelle Monaghan is another actor who has yet to get her dues. Usually overshadowed by bigger names, she shines in the role of C. Affleck’s girlfriend/partner. Monaghan’s Angie brings a much-needed sense of “wake-the-hell-up” to Patrick’s stubborn, always right attitude.
Ed Harris is the police detective assigned to find the girl and Morgan Freeman plays a police captain. Harris is an actor of impeccable range, a scene outside of a hospital should earn him a supporting actor nomination. The man does not know how to give a bad performance. It’s good to see Freeman stretching a little bit. We thankfully get no warming Morgan Freeman narration, which was beginning to seem like a contract clause.
Amy Ryan, best known for her work on HBO’s The Wire, is miraculous as the missing girls’ mother. In a role that is typically given several teary confessions, Ryan does an incredible job avoiding formula, as a woman who is too involved with her party lifestyle to really care about what has happened. She has at least one scene with all the major acting players, and she boldly steals them all, her name should surely top Oscar’s list right now.
The film may suffer one too many twists but it remains a seriously engrossing piece of work. Bound to draw comparisons to those other, better, Boston set movies (especially Mystic, another Lehane novel) Gone Baby Gone is a film of great suspense, jaw-dropping turns and authentic acting. Ben Affleck not only directs the film like a genuine pro, he just may have boosted is younger brother up to A-list status.
There is a great moral dilemma posed at the end of the movie, and although I’ll never tell what it is, I only hope it stirs conversation and thought, long after you leave the theatre. A-