Ben Affleck, who won an Oscar as a writer, is once again returning to a spot behind the camera. For Gone Baby Gone, in addition to writing chores which he shares with a former production assistant named Aaron Stockard, he is also picking up the director’s reins and I must say, for this reviewer, I’d rather NOT see him on screen. For me Affleck is better when he’s not seen. Of course this doesn’t mean we go without an Affleck in a leading role, it’s just that this time the job goes to Ben’s younger brother Casey, whom, I suppose, is coming into his own as an actor.
In this film, though, no one strays too far from their roots. Based on a Dennis Lehane novel (who also wrote the source material for Mystic River), the plot revolves around a four-year-old girl who is kidnapped from a poor Boston neighborhood and the two private detectives, Patrick and Angie (Affleck the younger coupled with the street-wise Michelle Monaghan) hired by the aunt to try and find her. Naturally, things don’t go smoothly. Patrick is very good at handling the South Boston ruffians while still maintaining his “I’m slightly better than you are but we’re all from the same place” vibe. When he meets the police captain in charge of missing kids (Morgan Freeman), while they don’t exactly become drinking buddies, Patrick does get a nice liaison with the department and it finally looks like things are gonna go his way. He solves the crime but then things go wrong and the outcome isn’t entirely desirable, or as expected. And the film is only half over.
And if you’re looking for more plot, you may as well stop reading right now. I’m not giving anything more away. Did I have it figured out ahead of my companion, yeah, but then I had The Sixth Sense figured out twenty minutes in and I’m not gonna ruin this one. The thing is, when all is said and done, it really doesn’t matter who did it or how. What matters is the why and that’s what should have you talking long after the lights come up and you’ve finished your popcorn. Because what this film is about, when you take out all the twists, turns and subplots, is what it means to be a good parent and, separately, but even more importantly, what it means to do the right thing.
Affleck, as a director, is still a little wet behind the ears. Gone Baby Gone is a film you’d expect from his former partner in crime Matt Damon, but instead, this quirky thriller is a surprise based on Affleck’s penchant for high-impact action flicks and his direction shows it. He’s learned at the lens of people like Michael Bay and John Woo and so here, he’s overcompensating, trying to be too slow and too methodical. His pacing is off but you can see glimmers. Where he excels, though, is in the setting up of a moral quandary with no easy answers. In an age of Jerry Springer and YouTube, where inter-personal boundaries are so blurred as to be non-existent and everyone, it seems, is out solely for themselves, Affleck and Stockard ask the tough question of what would YOU do in the same situation and to be honest, I’m not sure what the right answer is. All I do know is that the discussion has now been started and I hope beyond hope it stays longer than this film will remain in the multiplex, because while the movie is good for an afternoon’s diversion, the topics it brings up are worth a lifetime of debate. Especially the lifetime of a missing four-year-old girl.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)