When a film has an anomaly, such as a star turn as a director, they call it a gimmick and the film almost inevitably becomes all about that anomaly, both in the eyes of critics and even in some cases the viewers. That became especially problematic for Ben Affleck’s first turn as a director for the 2007 crime drama GONE BABY GONE considering he was still coming off of paparazzi saturation with the whole J-Lo debacle. But when that dust finally settled, and you could see B-Fleck (does that work?) as just another director, this is a great piece of work for him to start with.
The script was adapted by Affleck and Aaron Stockard from the Dennis Lehane (MYSTIC RIVER) novel of the same name, painting yet another dark picture of Boston, as if the city should just be one solid red dot on the Megan’s Law website. It follows two low-level private investigators, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angela Gennaro (Michele Monaghan) hired for help with the case of an abduction of a four-year old girl, Amanda McCready. The mother, Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) is a foul-mouthed, junkie drug runner who frequents the most interesting dive bars in South Boston. Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by a concerned aunt and uncle as a supplement to the police investigation more with the neighborhood aspect, as they have a better knowledge of the streets and its inhabitants, while Helene mugs for the cameras and the police ask the wrong questions.
The police are played like people who know what they are doing, though. Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton – Taggert from BEVERLY HILLS COP) can go from zero to volatile in no time, and Ed Harris milks his scenes for every hard word he can scream at Helene or Patrick, whoever his anger is directed at the time. And although his anger is focused, his monologues hold in them something deeper, as do those of Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) who has lost a child himself, and therefore invests that much more in every child kidnapping he investigates.
As in most crime dramas now though, it is a disservice to give away too many details of how the investigation unfolds, only to say that the film deals with deeper issues other than pedophilia and kidnapping, which are already two heavy hitting issues in themselves, and GONE BABY GONE challenges not only the characters but the viewers as to how they feel about those issues.
As for performances, they are all batting a thousand (using a baseball analogy since Boston won the Series in ’07). Casey Affleck had a great year with this and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES, and he got to use his old GOOD WILL HUNTING accent again, only a little deeper this time. Michele Monaghan used this film and the scenes of conflict with Patrick and the police officers to redeem herself for THE HEARTBREAK KID, but I think Amy Ryan was a bit overrated from all the critical acclaim she got for playing Helene, which included an Oscar nomination. Not to say she did it poorly, but just spouting vulgarities in a thick Boston accent does not a great performance make. Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, however, perform their roles with the gravity and genuine emotion that we expect from the characters in their situations, and from actors of their pedigree. Ben Affleck loaded the deck with this film and put them all in a situation where each could shine. Yeah, that Ben Affleck. Get over it and enjoy the flick.