Gone Baby Gone ***1/2
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the book by Dennis Lehane
Casey Affleck as Patrick Kenzie
Michelle Monaghan as Angie Gennaro
Morgan Freeman as Jack Doyle
Ed Harris as Detective Remy Bressant
John Ashton as Nick Poole
Amy Ryan as Helene McCready
Amy Madigan as Beatrice McCready
114 Minutes(Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language. )
I came to the conclusion at some point during Ben Affleck's masterful directorial debut "Gone Baby Gone" that either people are good at translating the work of Dennis Lehane-whose novels I have never read-or he is an extremely powerful author. His novels brought two great films to the screen-the first being Clint Eastwood's 2003 film 'Mystic River," and now with "Gone Baby Gone" I know who to go to if I want to read a great mystery story. There are many twists and turns all throughout this film, and not only that but there are deep characters, extraordinary acting by a few masters and a few rising wonders, and it is even made as if it were done by a pro. Affleck hasn't wowed anyone with his acting for the last few years, but made quite a turn in last year's "Hollywoodland," but maybe behind the camera is the right place for him to be. He certainly will not be insulted for his work here.
Affleck directs his own brother Casey-the best actor in the family-as Patrick Kenzie, a private investigator who works on same town cases with his girlfriend Angie Gennaro-played by Michelle Monaghan, who I always knew would somehow rise higher than next to nothing appearances in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." The two of them are asked by Beatrice McCready to help find a her missing niece-the young Amanda. Her mother Helene, a junkie, goes on the news all the time to ask for help to find her daughter, and Patrick and Angie reluctantly take the case-both because its a job that's way above what they are used to, and they are scared about what they would end up finding. The two of them begin the investigation, with the help of Jack Doyle, a cop in charge of a unit to make sure that children are safe, and Detective Remy Bressant, another cop that has no mercy for those that do bad things to children.
That's really all you need to know walking in, as "Gone Baby Gone" takes several twists and turns starting from the second reel. So much happens in the movie, and every twist actually seems like it could have actually happened. It never seems too much, or it never seems padded into the script. And beyond the great mystery story-and this is part investigation, part action film, and part character drama-there is terrific and very strong performances to boost. Casey Affleck is finally getting the credit he deserves-last year's "Lonesome Jim" and "The Last Kiss" combined with this and "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" already make an impressive filmography. Michelle Monaghan is also very good, and I'm glad Affleck didn't cast a well known leading lady when there is such a treasure that is always under the radar-she was also one of the few right moves in "The Heartbreak Kid." And Morgan Freeman is perfection as usual, but it's Ed Harris who I think could snag a Supporting Actor nomination early next year. And it's not only credit to the actors for giving in strong performances, but there was a lot to work with on the page.
To start with Casey Affleck's character Patrick is easy. This is a character that changes constantly-is always being given choices to make, many of them extremely difficult, and by the end he is nowhere near the person he started out as. Seeing changes in the characters played by Harris and Freeman are a bit more difficult, but they are in a constant change of mood. Their principles are put to strong tests throughout. I think I might drift away from classy literature for a bit and actually pick up a book by Dennis Lehane. "Mystic River" was one of the best movies of 2003, and "Gone Baby Gone" is one of the better movies of this year. I don't know if its a credit to Lehane or if he's just been lucky getting good film makers to bring his work to the screen, but whichever it is, these are believable mystery stories, with real situations and real characters brought to life through good writing, direction, and acting. This movie is so strong and packed with so many turns that even though you may predict part of it, you're always far away from the big picture.