Friday, September 10, 2010

"Gone Baby Gone" (2007)

Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan and Ed Harris
Written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck

I've never hated Ben Affleck.  I know people who do, but I've always found that he's a capable performer when under the guidance of a capable director - Kevin Smith, for example.  But with "Gone Baby Gone," it turns out that he's by far a better director than he is an actor.

Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother) is a private detective.  One day, a couple knocks on his door and asks him to help the police find their missing niece, Amanda.  Amanda's mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is a drinker and a drug addict, and the girl may have been kidnapped by a vengeful drug dealer Helene ripped off for $130,000.  Kenzie and his girlfriend and partner, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), are paired up with two police detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) and they begin to unravel the twisted trail of drugs and money that might've gotten this young girl kidnapped... or murdered.

After a ransom drop goes bad, Kenzie and the others are roasted in the media.  Bressant's police captain, Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) takes the blame and takes a forced retirement.  Not long after, another child is kidnapped and Kenzie receives a tip on where he might be.  When the bust goes bad and Poole is shot and killed, things start to unravel even further and Kenzie discovers that perhaps Amanda's disappearance was not all it was made out to be.  Despite warnings from the people he knows, he begins to start looking into it again, and makes some shocking discoveries.

"Gone Baby Gone" poses some intriguing questions for the audience.  What is "right"?  What is "wrong"?  If you do something bad in order to accomplish something good... is it right or wrong?  What is "home"?  Is it biology, is it location, is it the people you're with?  The film deftly asks all these questions without hammering any answers into our faces, leaving us to decide how we feel about it for ourselves, all while telling an interesting mystery with engaging characters and excellent performances.

Casey Affleck is great as the young detective with a bit of an attitude.  As the picture of what actually happened to Amanda begins to get clearer and clearer for him, it's interesting in that Kenzie seems to become more confused.  He plays the moral quandaries ably, showing attitude when he needs to, sensitivity and nobility as he moves through the layers of mystery and conspiracy going on around him.  Ed Harris is also a powerhouse in the film, bringing a great humanity to Detective Bressant.  I've sometimes had a hard time with Harris who, even though I've always liked him, he can sometimes be very opaque and, maybe, larger-than-life in a certain sense, with his commanding presence and deep voice.  But here, he seems rather vulnerable at times, and flawed.  Amy Ryan, who earned a nomination for her role as Helene, is awesome.  Her character is not a good person, a mother who will take her kid to bars or on drug deals, but it's a performance full of raw emotion.  Every time she's on screen, she owns it. 

Ben Affleck directs a great film here, getting excellent work from his actors.  He doesn't get bogged down in your standard mystery/thriller ideas like chases or fights, but instead focuses on the dogged determination of the characters and isn't afraid to let the story wrap up in an ending that's confusing (emotionally) and a bit harsh.  He also manages to create a great sense of location to the film, shooting in real Dorchester neighborhoods not populating them with your usual Hollywood pretty-faces. 

"Gone Baby Gone" is a great film, an excellent debut directorial effort from Ben Affleck.  Seeing it and enjoying it this much has upped my anticipation for "The Town," Affleck's second movie about Charlestown bank robbers, out next week.  The movie asks important questions about the nature of right and wrong, with a great script and fantastic performances from its cast.