Gone Baby Gone

A four year old girl goes missing in a working class Boston neighborhood. The police investigate in their systematic way but if cases like these aren’t solved in the first few days, chances are they won’t get solved at all. It’s been three days, so the child’s aunt hires a private detective with local ties to the neighborhood to search for clues among the people who won’t talk to the cops. The case winds up being more complicated than first thought. This is the set up for Gone Baby Gone, the first directorial effort by Ben Affleck, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River, which Clint Eastwood made into a dramatic tour de force.

Affleck being at the helm for this one may not inspire confidence in some quarters, but you have to remember that he and Matt Damon did win Oscars for their script to Good Will Hunting. So maybe there’s more to Ben than great hair and perfect teeth. The results of this movie would seem to bear that out. Gone Baby Gone is an inspired first effort.

For one thing, he takes the same approach to the setting that Eastwood did, showing it in all it’s rundown splendor. The cracked paint of the crowded row houses is juxtaposed to the seamed faces of the extras who had to be real denizens of Boston. It is a very good thing for first time directors to steal from more experienced ones, and Affleck here is stealing from the best. Even the cinematography is the same. Eastwood loves muted hues that lend to the drab desperation of his themes. Allfeck does the same.

Brother Casey excels as Patrick Kenzie, a newly minted private detective, who wants to specialize in finding missing persons. Casey does a great job as a local boy who grew up with half the cops and criminals in the neighborhood. He’s passionate about his specialty, but also cool in a crisis, facing down drawn guns with an almost Bogie like equanimity. It’s hard to imagine Ben coming close to this level of performance. Amy Ryan stuns in a great supporting performance as Helene McCready, the deeply flawed mother of the victim. Her tics and hostilities are believable as is her love for her daughter. Ed Harris plays a jaded detective to perfection, and Morgan Freeman brings grace and gravitas to the role of the head of the missing children’s division of the Boston Police.

There are some flaws in the film. The dialog doesn’t quite succeed in matching poetry with gritty realism, which Eastwood did so well in Mystic River. Gone Baby Gone’s plot is every bit as labyrinthine as Mystic River’s and yet it’s structure is strictly linear, the twists are trotted out at an almost steady predictable pace, so it doesn’t seem as complicated as it is.

But these are small things that only keep this from being as good as Mystic River. Overall Gone Baby Gone is a sophisticated treatment of this subject.

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