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GONE BABY GONE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver
Director:  Ben Affleck
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  See Review
Length:  114 Minutes
Release Date:  February 12, 2008

“Kids forgive.  They don’t judge, they turn the other cheek…and what do they get for it?”

Film **1/2

Gone Baby Gone is a film with a lot going for it…a superb cast at the top of its game, surehanded direction from first timer Ben Affleck, and a gritty, realistic look at inner city Boston, which becomes almost a character in and of itself.  In fact, it’s almost a noir picture…detectives, cops, criminals, and a damsel in distress, although in this case, she’s a four-year-old girl.

But for me, there were just aspects of the movie that simply didn’t work.  And my problem as a critic is, I can’t delve into much detail, because this is the kind of mystery story with twists and turns, some of which I saw coming, and some I didn’t.  The problem is, the ones I DIDN’T see coming weren’t startling or shocking so much as unbelievable.

The basic story is:  two romantically involved Boston private investigators named Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Monaghan) are employed by the aunt of a little girl who was apparently taken from their home.  The girl’s mother (Oscar nominee Ryan) does drugs, runs with a bad crowd, and may have jeopardized her daughter by trying to rip off a local drug dealer.

Also on the case are the police, headed by Captain Jack Doyle (the always terrific Freeman), an elderly cop who lost his own daughter once, and has become driven to keep other parents from having to experience the same thing.  On his side are the detectives Remy Bressant (Harris) and Nick Poole (Ashton), who don’t much like private investigators, but agree to help at their captain’s insistence.

It’s a mystery, but one with considerably darker overtones than normal.  The victim is a little girl, so the stakes are higher dramatically and emotionally for all involved.  Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote Mystic River, and adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, Gone Baby Gone succeeds in as far as it is driven by fleshed out characters realized by a talented troupe.  Ben’s brother Casey had a banner year last year; between his work in this film and The Assassination of Jesse James, he has proven equally capable as a leading man and as a character actor.

My issues with the film deal in areas I can’t explore here, because they would deprive potential viewers of some genuine surprises.  I’ll tread carefully in saying that I have a hard time believing otherwise good cops would come to the conclusions they do and carry out the actions they commit to.  These actions may be met with enthusiasm by some audiences, but for me, they simply took me out of what was otherwise a solid piece of entertainment.

Ben Affleck shows promise behind the camera.  His obvious comfort with his native Boston lends an air of realism to the film.  He’s not afraid of the down and dirty, or the rich cultural diversity afforded by his hometown.  In fact, there’s enough here to make it plausible that Affleck could eventually become for Boston what Martin Scorsese is for New York.

There are simply inherent flaws that I can’t circumvent in my mind.  It robbed the movie of some well established potential for me.  Others may view it differently, but this is the kind of picture that stays in your mind and keeps you thinking about it long after.  And the more you think, the more you may ask, “what were THEY thinking?”  And it probably wasn't the question the filmmakers most wanted to leave you with.

Video ***

This is a decent anamorphic transfer from Miramax…it’s occasionally grainy, but that actually works given the gritty, noir-ish subject matter.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack doesn’t pull many punches, and many of the cues are surprising and strong.  Not a lot of rear channel usage, but solid dynamic range and clear dialogue throughout.

Features ***

Okay, enough of the hype about the “thought-provoking” extended ending…it’s a crock.  There’s only a few seconds different in the alternate closing, and none of it is substantial.  There are five other deleted scenes, with optional commentary from Ben Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard, and the two join up for an informative and interesting full-length commentary as well.  Rounding out are a pair of featurettes and some coming attractions.

Summary:

There’s much to admire about Gone Baby Gone, a promising debut from Ben Affleck with only a few flaws, but some of those flaws felt a little fatal.

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