Affleck turn in sturdy film with ‘Gone Baby Gone’
By Ben Saylor
Published Oct. 24, 2007
all the shadows and moral murk of Ben Affleck’s directorial debut,
one thing shines through bright and clear: Casey Affleck is having
one heck of a year.
The younger Affleck brother gives a dark, brooding
performance in “Gone
Baby Gone,” an adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane. His
turn as Boston private eye Patrick Kenzie, while not on the same
level as his mesmerizing performance as Robert Ford in “The Assassination
of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” is still striking and
Director: Ben Affleck
Kenzie, along with his girlfriend and partner Angie
Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, “The Heartbreak Kid”), are called in
to assist on a missing person’s case. Four-year-old Amanda McCready
was apparently snatched out of the apartment she lives in with her
junkie mother Helene (Amy Ryan). Police Captain Doyle (Morgan Freeman)
allows the pair to tag along with Detectives Bressant (Ed Harris)
and Poole (John Ashton). Thus begins an increasingly tangled and
sordid web of deceptions, lies, pedophilia and corruption.
Ben Affleck, after reasserting himself as an actor
last year with his excellent portrayal of TV Superman George Reeves
in “Hollywoodland” in addition to putting in a forgettable cameo
in “Smokin’ Aces”), steps behind the camera for “Gone,” and the
results, while certainly nothing spectacular, do show promise. Affleck
has a knack for atmosphere (although it’s not like the Beantown
native is filming an area he’s unfamiliar with), and ace cinematographer
John Toll masterfully paints the film in muted colors and murky
Affleck’s direction is also sturdy; this is a much
more even film, acting-wise, than Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River”
(also based on a Dennis Lehane Boston-area mystery). Yes, emotions
occasionally come to a boil, but when they do it generally feels
appropriate and not over the top (Sean Penn in “Mystic River,” anyone?).
Affleck and Michelle Monaghan play private investigators trying
to find a 4-year-old girl in "Gone Baby Gone."
Of course, it helps that Affleck has such a solid
leading man in his little brother, but the supporting cast is fine
as well. Harris is very good as the very intense Bressant, and Monaghan
is a welcome presence in any film (as she proved in “Kiss Kiss Bang
Bang”). Freeman, however, while not bad exactly, doesn’t seem quite
right for his role, although that may be why Affleck put him in
the film (That makes more sense once you’ve seen the movie).
It is Ryan, however, as an extremely unsympathetic
mother, who really stands out amongst the supporting players. Only
sometimes resorting to histrionics, Ryan turns Helene into a fairly
complex character, not a caricature. This is critical, because the
audience’s perception of her character is crucial to making the
film’s haunting conclusion work as well as it does.
Ultimately, the biggest problem with the film lies
within the source material (Affleck adapted the novel with Aaron
Stockard). I’ve never read the book, but the plot of the film of
“Gone Baby Gone” is just too twisty and contrivance-ridden for my
tastes. We’re asked to swallow an awful lot with this movie, and
the more the plot ties itself in knots, the less involved I became
with the film. The one bright spot is that there isn’t a drawn-out,
guns-blazing bloodbath at the conclusion. Instead, Affleck poses
Kenzie (and the audience) with an interesting moral dilemma, one
whose consequences affect not only Kenzie, but just about every
other character in the movie.
With “Gone Baby Gone,” Affleck the elder has proved
he can direct, and Affleck the younger has shown that he has the
acting chops to carry a movie. Here’s hoping that for the former
Affleck’s next directing gig, he’ll pick a story with some real
meat to it.