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 V.16 No.42 | October 18 - 24, 2007 

Film Review

Gone Baby Gone

The thrill is not gone in this gritty crime drama

“Jeez, I just shot Jesse James, now I gotta look for a kidnapped child? How about a breather?”
“Jeez, I just shot Jesse James, now I gotta look for a kidnapped child? How about a breather?”

Gone Baby Gone

Directed by Ben Affleck

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Amy Madigan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman

Casey Affleck is having a hell of a year. Actually, he’s having a hell of a weekend, starring in two major films being released this Friday: [url]http://jessejamesmovie.warnerbros.com/The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Gone Baby Gone. The Assassination ... features far and away the showier of the two roles for Affleck, but he comes off as a credible leading man in Gone Baby Gone nonetheless.

The film is based on the book by Dennis Lehane (a real Hollywood darling since Clint Eastwood adapted his working-class thriller Mystic River in 2003). This one is directed and co-written by Casey’s big bro Ben Affleck, his first time sitting in the director’s chair and his second stint in the writer’s chair (after 1997’s Good Will Hunting).

Even more so than Eastwood’s evocative Mystic River, Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone captures the mood, the feeling, the flavor, the sound, the smell and the look of inner-city Boston. Having been brought up in the Boston area, the Afflecks seem to have a comfortable grip on the city. Gone Baby Gone was most assuredly not shot in some Toronto neighborhood subbing for East Coast America. This is Beantown through and through.

The film’s morally ambiguous tale follows Lehane’s novel closely. Casey stars as Patrick Kenzie, a baby-faced townie who has partnered with his fiancée (Michelle Monaghan, no worse for wear off The Heartbreak Kid) as a low-rent detective. Kenzie works mostly as a skip tracer, hunting down bail jumpers and people who’ve skipped out on their rent. One day, though, he gets a crack at a real case. Seems a 4-year-old girl from Kenzie’s ramshackle neighborhood has gone missing. The police believe she’s been kidnapped, but have no leads. The girl’s mother is a known junkie and not all that reliable in the parenting department, so the grandparents (Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver) turn to Kenzie for help. He knows his way around the Dorchester neighborhood and has an ability to communicate with local underworld types that the police do not (mostly because he went to high school with all of them). Against the objections of his girlfriend/partner and the skepticism of the local police (embodied by stoic top cop Morgan Freeman), Kenzie makes a promise to the family that he will find the lost little girl.

Almost immediately, Kenzie turns up a connection between the girl’s trailer-trash mother and a local drug kingpin. Apparently, mama and her sleazy boyfriend kept a sizable sack of money from a recent drug deal gone bad. It doesn’t take Kenzie long to finger the drug dealer as the most likely suspect in the kidnapping. Of course, the film has multiple twists and turns in store, none of which it would be advisable to go over here.

As the tangled threads of this murky tale start to unravel, the mechanics of the plot start grinding on one another. Lehane’s solution takes us to surprising, but not entirely logical places—the sole gripe in an otherwise gripping drama.

Of course, the strength of Lehane’s narratives lies not in the typical crime thriller trappings but in the gritty portrait of modern-day Boston. The senior Affleck has clearly done away with Hollywood-style sets, preferring to shoot on the actual streets in which this story is set and staffing his film with a host of authentic local denizens. Aside from a couple of star turns at the top (Ed Harris is also along for the ride as a resolutely blue-collar cop), much of the cast and all of the extras look like they were just standing there when the cameras started rolling. Pretty, this film ain’t; but it sure smacks of grubby realism.

Affleck gives a solid, low-key performance. It isn’t attention-grabbing, but it fits in properly with his character, a gregarious homeboy who’s perfectly at ease talking with locals but plagued with a conscience that doesn’t fit so well in today’s sick and twisted world of alcoholic parents, corrupt cops, child kidnappers and scandal-hungry media outlets.


Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck turns director to helm this gripping adaptation of a mystery novel by Dennis Lehane (the guy who also provided Sean Penn with Mystic River). Casey Affleck delivers an understated star turn as a youthful, but charismatic Boston P.I. who--along with his attractive g.f. Michelle Monaghan (The Heartbreak Kid)--is hired to help out in a child abduction case. A little snooping through Beantown's seedier neighborhoods roots out a mother with some very ugly underworld connections and a growing conspiracy. Some of the plot mechanics might not be entirely realistic, but Affleck has created a gritty and quite realistic portrait of low-rent Boston. 114 minutes R.

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