Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone
By Matthew Huntley
October 29, 2007
Gone Baby Gone was probably what Ben Affleck needed to establish himself as a Hollywood director. It's literal and mainstream, yes, but it comes with several opportunities for a skilled filmmaker to make it his or her own. Using subtle, crafty techniques, Affleck turns this into a compelling and emotional human story. It's one you're sure to remember.
The movie sells itself as being "from the author of Mystic River," and like that film, Gone Baby Gone begins with a kidnapping, which again sets in motion a string of deep realizations and consequences for characters who once felt they had a grasp on who they were and who they wanted to be. But after a little girl disappears, the people searching for her enter into battle with their own morals and souls.
It begins with narration from the film's hero, Patrick (Casey Affleck), who solemnly says, "It's the things we don't choose that make us who we are" - things like our neighborhoods and our families. True, these things do shape the person we eventually become, but they also have the power to turn us into people we don't want to be.
Patrick is a private detective in a small Boston neighborhood, and his job is to mostly find people. He lives with his partner/girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan), and they both watch the news as the story of the kidnapped girl unfolds and becomes the town's sole focus. The little girl's name is Amanda (Madeline O'Brien), and local cops, residents and reporters storm outside her house in hopes of finding answers.
Amanda's Aunt Beatrice (Amy Madigan) and Uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) plea to Patrick and Angie for help, but they're reluctant since they don't typically handle these kinds of cases, especially when every cop in the neighborhood is already on it. Police Chief Doyle (Morgan Freeman) leads the official investigation, but for him it's more personal since he once lost a child of his own and knows all to well the pain such a tragedy carries.
Amanda's mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), claims she wants her daughter back, but she's hard to believe. She tells Patrick, Angie and two local detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poll (John Ashton), that she and her boyfriend ran deliveries for a local druglord named Cheese (Edi Gathegi) and stole $130,000 of his money. Cheese is made the primary suspect in Amanda's kidnapping and the detectives strike a deal with him to exchange his money for Amanda, but the plan seemingly backfires and Amanda is believed to be dead.
To go any further with the plot would do the film a disservice since its effect depends heavily on its ability to surprise us. The events within the film, like Dennis Lehane's novel, progress linearly from point A to point B, and as they play out, you can see Lehane's words on paper. Perhaps the plot works better in a novel, but the mood and performances were destined to be captured on film.
Up until this point, Casey Affleck has been a reliable supporting actor - droll and amusing in the "Ocean's" movies, sincere and honest in the underrated The Last Kiss. But here he shows he's not only able but exceptionally effective as a leading man. Affleck is a relatively small guy, but his presence is commanding and powerful. He turns Patrick into someone we actually fear, as well as admire. In at least three scenes he turns the tables on people bigger than him, and we see Affleck's conviction break through his physique. Some of the scenes do feel like a theatrical exercise or as a reminder that he's our hero, but they're still convincing.
The supporting cast is just as strong and take the material seriously. With Freeman, Harris, Madigan, Monaghan and Ryan, the cast is essentially made up of character actors, both veteran and up-and-coming, and Affleck directs them like an pro. They help make Gone Baby Gone into more than just a thriller. There's an obvious message to the film, which is subtly conveyed in the closing scene, but Affleck and Aaron Stockard's screenplay is too intelligent to simply scream it out loud.
Affleck also shows he can be a master of his resources by the way he creates an unsettling mood using his sets, lighting and locations. In one of the most thrilling and disturbing sequences, Patrick has just learned from his friend Bubba (Slain) that another missing boy has been kidnapped by a pedophile. What happens afterward is so nail-biting, scary and exciting, it makes Affleck and editor William Goldenberg masters of visceral storytelling.
Gone Baby Gone isn't the most original thriller or drama to come out of Hollywood, but it's unique and memorable in its own right, thanks especially to its performances and authentic emotion. Affleck and his crew raise it above the norm. Affleck said directing this film revealed to him his true calling. We see that he's probably right.