Gone Baby Gone (review)

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It’s no rare thing that a film gets buzz for its director. It’s a rare thing when that director has never made a film before. It’s an even rarer thing when the film by that first-timer turns out to be as astonishingly confident and shrewd as actor-turned-director Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone. (Apparently Affleck also directed a hilariously titled 16-minute 1993 short “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her on a Meat Hook, and Now I Have a Three-Picture Deal at Disney,” and wouldn’t I love to see that…)

Based upon the novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote the book upon which Mystic River was based), this is the story of a missing child, the young private investigator who is trying to find her, and the sordid underbelly of contemporary America that is exposed by the conflicting human urges a child in jeopardy elicits from an array of good and decent people… not to mention the much baser drives that parenthood cannot contain.

Did Helene McCready (Amy Ryan: Capote) sell her four-year-old daughter for cash? Trade her for drugs? Let her become a pawn in a feud among street thugs? This is the direction PI Patrick Kenzie’s (Casey Affleck: Ocean’s Thirteen) inquiry is taking, and where it shifts from there is even more appalling, in a depressingly desperate way.

The bleak victory here is in Affleck’s wickedly unforgiving eye for the insularity of neighborhood, for authentic working-class Boston, populated by the kinds of real faces, ravaged by drink or drugs or plain old despair, that we seldom see in studio films, and by small-minded attitudes about class pride that are the opposite of the self-respect they pretend to. Affleck’s feature debut is so visually and thematically astute, in fact, that it makes you look anew at Mystic River and last year’s mean-streets-of-Beantown flick The Departed and wonder how filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese could have missed what Affleck captures here.

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Tue, Oct 23, 2007 9:28am

I think Affleck has the advantage over Eastwood and Scorsese by having grown up in Boston. Though he was actually raised in Cambridge, a mere stones throw from Boston proper, anyone who spends any significant amount of time in an area will have a better eye for the people of that area.

In addition, his parents, a social worker and a teacher, allowed him to be surrounded by “the salt of the earth”. I think were his parents CEO’s or lawyers or doctors even, he wouldn’t have the same perspective.

Tue, Oct 23, 2007 3:33pm

Absolutely right in all ways. But still, being able to translate that experience and knowledge into filmic language is yet another talent entirely, and it’s really, really delightful and amazing that Affleck is *this damn good* at it. I can’t wait to see what he does for his next film.

Sun, Oct 28, 2007 4:16pm

Just saw this incredible picture. Really, really raw and real and mostly not telegraphed. For anyone who appreciates scriptwriting, you’ll thrill to hear a few echoes of those signature “Good Will Hunting” monologues, and some wonderful ten-dollar words that come out of Casey Affleck’s mouth when you least expect them. And my fav, delivered by Ed Harris — “And that’s an ‘if’ you don’t want to bring into your life.'” When a line of dialogue stands the hairs up on the back of your neck, that’s a damn good script.

Mon, Oct 29, 2007 10:18pm

A damn good script, agreed. But it’s pretty much common knowledge that *Good Will Hunting* got some uncredited doctoring from some screenwriters FAR more experienced than Affleck and Damon, and Affleck here is working from an existing novel, and that great line — and others — were likely lifted verbatim from the book.

I don’t want to downplay Affleck’s work here, but I don’t want to overplay it, either.