The great crime/mystery movies are the ones that use the genre as a stepping-off point for developing characters and examining issues. Ben Affleck's, feature debut as a director, "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) is an involving mystery-tale of mixed motives, selflessness and betrayal. The movie's plot twists are derived from moral enigmas rather than a deft narrative technique. The movie's source novel by Dennis Lehane is as complex and intriguing as his other effort, Mystic River, which was turned into a memorable movie by actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood.
'Gone Baby Gone' arises a fascinating moral dilemma within the context of the abduction of a 4-year-old child. The movie also calls up with the familiarity that Ben Affleck, brought to his Oscar-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting. The people and atmosphere of his hometown, Boston, and an attention to evolving motivations through a recognizable genre elevate Gone Baby Gone to one of the best debuts behind the camera for any filmmaker, movie-star or otherwise.
PlotPatrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are private investigators, who specialize in missing persons cases, and they are thriving because people will talk to them in ways they will not to the police. Patrick, aged thirty one, grew up in Boston's tougher neighborhoods and knows the people there.
Dorchester, Boston is flooded with coverages over the missing case of Four-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien), a blond doll, from her home for three days. Amanda's drug addict, single mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), is distraught and somewhat taken aback by the media coverage of the event. Despite widespread media coverage and full fledged search in the tough blue-collar neighborhood, Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), head of the police department's Crimes Against Children unit, has come up with no suspects.
After three anxious days, the child’s aunt, Bea (Amy Madigan), seeks help from Patrick Kenzie, much to the annoyance of at least one cop assigned to the case (Ed Harris). Patrick discovers Helene's past, whose drug problems has stuck the company of many unsavory characters, any one of whom could have kidnapped her daughter. The recently acquitted trio of junkies and pedophiles pave the way for Patrick to solve the mystery but don’t prepare him for the door his conscience is asked to walk through.
AnalysisCasey Affleck, previously, in the same year, did a perfect low-key role in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." Both these movie showed potent acting chops to be reckoned with. Casey is quite effective in the part of a baby-face investigator. The ever reliable scene stealer Morgan Freeman and with his solid voice of reason justifies the character many fractured outpourings of discontent. Amy Ryan's certainly unfit mother seem real as well as negligent. Ed Harris is another standout in the ensemble of impressive supporting actors.
Director Ben Affleck's flawless direction has a lot of story to cover, some of it mazy, but his screenplay, which he co-wrote with Aaron Stockard, lays it all out methodically. Affleck takes desperate measures to create a visceral sense of tension in this noir whodunit leavened by an appropriately melancholy mood. The most fascinating and compelling thing is its ethical question raised skillfully that will haunt viewers and the touching conclusion probably will incite debate. Ben Affleck also maintains an ubiquitous sense of place, advantageously enhanced by thoughtfully lensed locations and vivid cutaways to local inhabitants.
Gone Baby Gone, creates a more disruptive, turbulent, textured sense of the city as a character. Like Dog Day Afternoon, the opening credits' sober street-scene montage situates the film in concrete particulars. . The effectiveness of the movie's subject matter and the intelligence and perceptiveness with which it is approached make this not merely a genre movie but a genuine masterful work.
Gone Baby Gone, with its perfect cast and an exceptional piece of directing, goes beyond the boundaries of simple detective thriller and into the realm of intelligent, morally complex drama. Not only good crime/mystery, but a thoughtful one too.