Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

As much as it kind of hurts to admit, I have to hand it to Ben Affleck, he of Jersey Girl, Reindeer Games, and Gigli, has directed a motion picture of intelligence and moral complexity. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), Affleck (who co-wrote the solid screenplay with Aaron Stockard) does a fine job telling the story of a missing Boston girl, the cops with their own agendas, the street thugs, and the lone guy with an idealistic conscience. A few minor directorial hiccups aside, Affleck does a wonderful job giving a slice of life in the Boston streets he obviously knows well and and has a great affinity for. He also has the good sense to follow movies like Mystic River and The Departed (all local Boston productions) and not even try to show them up, but embrace his strong story and give it it's own somewhat smaller life.
But the best thing Affleck does as a director is hiring brother Casey Affleck for the lead role of Patrick Kenzie. I'm not sure when younger Affleck became a great actor (I never really noticed anything all that special in the Ocean's film or Gus Van Sant's Gerry), but after a simply faultless performance here and another in The Assassination of Jesse James, he is obviously a quiet force to the reckoned with. I say quiet, because in both his acclaimed fall performances this year, Affleck hasn't gone in with heavy histronics, but instead profound, and seemingly precise characters maturely fleshed out.

In Gone Baby Gone, little Amanda McCready, has been kidnapped-- practically the entire Boston police force is looking for her and her mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is interviewed on television grieving a praying for her return. Helene's sister Beatrice (Amy Madigan), desperate for Amanda's capture, hire private detectives Patrick and Angie (Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) to aide the investigation. Intially the police department, embodied by Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris are hestitant for their help, but as the investigation grows more complicated except the young man and his girl friday to tag along. That's the setup, and without saying more on the plot I was pleasantly surprised with the depth and tautness of the story-- the story takes a loop that's jarring and suprising with it's cleverness, and quite heart-wrenching actually.

And that's why appreciated Gone Baby Gone so much, because it was so surprising. I've already commented on my astonishment that Ben Affleck concocted such a deep and satisfying film, and that younger brother Casey is proving himself to be one of the better younger actors around, but the third surprise is a talented, little unknown actress named Amy Ryan. I saw Ryan lingering the background for a little bit of Dan in Real Life, and read her mostly rave reviews, but until I saw it for myself I wasn't sure-- she is brilliant here. Her performance of Helene is raw and exposed. Helene, first scene as worried and doting mother, is really a mess-- a frequent drug user, a drunk with a penchant of leaving her child alone as she picks up other dregs of society in seedy taverns. Yet you must respect Ryan for bracing this character, one you mostly loathe, and committing so forcefully that when a slight reversal of her character takes place it's profound. Helene is a loud, abrasive character, and Ryan goes there, but you get the feeling that it's all bravado, and it's almost what she isn't saying that is the loudest.

I have to say that this one of the better movies I've seen so far this year, and the must give credit to Ben Affleck-- may his directorial career be blissful and J-Lo free. B+

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