Monday, October 29, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Aaron Stockard and Ben Affleck
Novel: Dennis Lehane
Producers: Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Danton Rissner, Alan Ladd Jr.
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, John Ashton, Amy Ryan
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 114 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

reviewed by Andrew James
      You'll be hearing Casey Affleck's name a lot this year come Oscar time. Besides Gone Baby Gone, he also concurrently has put forth a brilliant performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Who knew? But the real surprise here is Casey's older brother, who has conceived and directed a mighty fine film as his directorial debut. All you Affleck haters out there can now finally zip it!

      Gone Baby Gone is the story of 4 year-old Amanda McCready. Abducted from her home one night while her mother is out galavanting around town. The cops seem to have very few leads and so the family decides to hire a couple of private detectives who specialize in missing persons. Affleck and Monaghan play the two leads searching for clues about Amanda's disappearance. They know the people in town who might reveal something that they normally might not to the police. And so starts a series of clues and investigations that lead our protagonists and the audience down a road you won't believe.

      Again, the strength here lies with the performances. Affleck is blossoming into one of the best stars of the decade and I'll be shocked if an Oscar nomination isn't in his very near future. Pair him up with veteran actor Ed Harris who really puts his chops on display here with some great speeches and convincing stares. I must not forget, of course, the great Morgan Freeman. While he tends to be sort of

the same in almost every role, including the voiceover work, there's something extra in his performance here. I can't quite put my finger on it, but seems to have given just an extra touch of effort; a look of desperation almost to help make this film succeed as well as it does. Kudos sir on reminding me why I like you so much, Mr Freeman.

      The break-out role in my opinion however, is that of film new comer, Amy Ryan, who plays the drugged out, trashy mother of Amanda. Her character is paramount to some of the moral dilemmas within the film and she pulls it off with hateful delight. Look for her to pop up much more regularly in the future alongside Steve Carell in Dan in Real Life and further down the road in Clint Eastwood's (who always makes excellent casting decisions), The Changeling. This is one of those overlooked performance because she's such an unlikable character, yet not a traditional villain.

      While no stranger to scriptwriting with 1997s Good Will Hunitng, Ben Affleck has put forth a very fine piece of work for his first go at directing. Not to say there aren't some hiccups in the screenplay, which is actually my only real beef with the film, but it definitely won me over in good graces by the end. His style and use of slow, compelling, deliberately paced storytelling with moments of shock and awe is really something to behold and I beg of Mr. Affleck to continue down this road. If he has more of this type of film up his sleeve, we're in for some very special things in our future.

      The only major problem I could find with this picture is the disjointed storyline. It breaks up three different stories very abruptly and tries to connect them all by the end. In trying to connect them all, it does sort of succeed, but the bumpy ride getting to that point is very noiceable and a bit distracting. Just as the film starts to flow nicely, we're jolted to a halt with a complete change of mood and character focus. This happens at least twice within the two hour time frame and to me it was very jarring. But again, somehow, mostly through masterful strokes of compelling acting, we're slowly brought back on board and as I said, it really won me over by the end.

      My only other small complaint is the ending. I think it could've ended 5-10 minutes sooner that it did. Some things are better left to the imagination and the end of Gone Baby Gone is one of those things. Obviously that's just personal opinion and the general movie going audience would be daunted and slightly miffed by such an emotional picture that didn't tie things up nicely and provide closure. Personally, I prefer a little bit of a challenge and would think there would be much more to discuss afterwards had the film ended when it "should've."

      Having said that, the film is damn compelling. I enjoy pictures that give us moral dilemmas to contemplate and Gone Baby Gone gives us those choices with a rush of power and brilliance more than once and on more than one level. Veteran actors giving their all to convince another that their point of view is correct and totally had me engrossed and nearly won over in the ethical debate. Then Affleck's character steps up with his own code and own brand of "new" acting and is equally compelling and convincing with his argument. Rarely does a film ask so brilliantly of its audience, "What would you do?", and rarely does it ask multiple times and with such force.

      Not a masterpiece by any stretch, but certainly masterful work for a first time director. The mood set is terrific, the direction of the actors is stellar and the story told is compelling enough for even the most critical of audience members. Sure to have more than a few nods at the Academy's awards ceremony come February, do yourself a favor and see this film before it's gone baby; gone.

Click "play" to see the trailer:

IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Gone Baby Gone

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