Gone Baby Gone (Miramax, R)

gonebaby2.jpgIt’s also worth noting that Gone Baby Gone is Ben Affleck’s first foray into screenwriting since he and Matt Damon won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Affleck, with co-writer Aaron Stockard, ambitiously sets out to disrupt the formula of so many bad crime films you’ve seen before (Ben really should know what a bad screenplay looks like).


 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s worth mentioning that when reviewing a film like Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s scatterbrained, somewhat successful directorial debut, it’s hard to say anything without giving a lot of plot details away. So, consider this your personal “spoiler alert.” In the film, Affleck casts his brother Casey as a young private detective, hired to aid the police in their search for a missing four-year-old girl. Certainly, the topic is a hot potato; the film’s release has been postponed indefinitely in the United Kingdom due to its similarities to that missing girl you’ve surely heard about on the news. Gone Baby Gone stands somewhere between Zodiac and one of those Julianne Moore-loses-her-kid-and-her-mind films, frequently feeling like both. Ben Affleck performs some sort of shuffle dance throughout the film, keeping the film somewhere between a gritty Chinatown/Departed hybrid and a Gummo-like portrait of the sketchy white trash of Boston (I’m putting my vote in now for Boston overtaking Baltimore as the ugliest city in America). Sounds weird, eh? It’s really not, though you may be like me and find yourself questioning whether the film was projected with a missing reel.

In his brother, Affleck finds an acceptable, baby-faced anchor for his film. As Patrick Kenzie, Casey Affleck serves as this rock of morality, which becomes important in understanding the film’s ultimate purpose. As an actor, he’s constantly outshined by some of his costars, particularly Ed Harris as an asshole cop and Titus Welliver (Deadwood) as the uncle of the young girl whose wife (Amy Madigan) hires Kenzie, yet he does what he’s supposed to, leaving the questioning morals to everyone else in the film. Ultimately, it becomes director Affleck’s downfall in his solid supporting cast, enlisting Amy Ryan and Michael Kenneth Williams, both stars of the best show on television, HBO’s The Wire, in pivotal roles. Affleck really should have known better, because with these two (who are both good in the film), he beckons a comparison that no one should ever want. Even Martin Scorsese should shake in his boots at the idea of someone comparing The Departed to The Wire, which is more brilliant than 98% of the movies you’ll ever see in your life, and with Ryan and Williams, Affleck invites this comparison, which makes his minor successes throughout the film look meager.

It’s also worth noting that Gone Baby Gone is Ben Affleck’s first foray into screenwriting since he and Matt Damon won the Oscar for Good Will Hunting. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Affleck, with co-writer Aaron Stockard, ambitiously sets out to disrupt the formula of so many bad crime films you’ve seen before (Ben really should know what a bad screenplay looks like). Gone Baby Gone’s structure is alarming at times, ruggedly not conceding to any of your expectations. I’d love to applaud Affleck for doing this, but he handles the numerous false climaxes clumsily, preemptively signaling the closing credits before remembering, “oh shit, we forgot to tie that loose end up.” And, yes, all loose ends find a home in the end.

Affleck’s greatest strength comes in the form of closure, which is one he should be proud of. Once the end becomes fully in sight, Gone Baby Gone vacillates on the idea of right and wrong, with co-star Michelle Monaghan (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), as Kenzie’s girlfriend and business partner, finally revealing her purpose in the film (she simply floats through the rest of the film like a sometimes-talking stage prop). Though I won’t say what the decision entails, Kenzie makes the wrong one, leaving a lingering sense of wonderful distaste in your mouth à la The Graduate. Gone Baby Gone may not go down in the history books, but it’s certainly the best career move Ben Affleck could have made. He knows how to end a film, which, more often than not, even the best directors don’t really know how to do. Trust me, I’ll take fifty Gone Baby Gones over five minutes of Pearl Harbor or Daredevil. | Joe Bowman

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