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.