Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone v.f.
By Michael Phillips, Tribune movie critic
Ben Affleck's resume has been public property for a long time now. Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Good Will Hunting," up there on the big stage with his toothy pal Matt Damon. Star of "Armaggedon" and "Pearl Harbor" and a few other movies. Co-star of Bennifer. Rehab. Surly behavior. Tabloid nastiness. Partial, if unprofitable, redemption in "Hollywoodland," in which he played George Reeves. Now, life with Jennifer Garner. Fatherhood. And first-time feature film director.
That film is "Gone Baby Gone," a dour, fairly intriguing mystery based on the fourth book in a series of South Boston-set detective novels by Dennis Lehane, best known for "Mystic River." Affleck's younger brother, Casey, stars as Patrick Kenzie, who investigates the disappearance of a 4-year-old Dorchester girl. Her addict mother (Amy Ryan) is so obviously unfit for parenting, the audience's sympathies are mixed, to Lehane's credit, from the outset.
Kenzie's partner and lover is Angie (Michelle Monaghan, on the money), young and tough like Patrick but unprepared for the scuzz they encounter on the search. Inevitably simplifying the book's maze of corruption, the adaptation by director Affleck and Aaron Stockard guides us through the ooze, letting actors such as Ed Harris run, run, run like the wind with their scenery-chewing opportunities. He plays Bressant, a detective who may know more than he's telling. Morgan Freeman brings his patented if increasingly unsurprising gravitas to the role of a police captain whose own child was a victim of kidnappers, or worse, and was never found.
Affleck knows these streets; as for how to film them, and where the put the camera in relation to the mugs on screen, he's intermittently effective. Lehane's world is full of tricky moral choices that really aren't so tricky in the end; as in "Mystic River," by the time we arrive at the source of the rot, we're handed law-breakers who did "good" deeds, exacting their own vigilante justice. It may be satisfying, but it's also formulaic.
The film is reasonably effective all the same, though Affleck has yet to learn how to conduct each scene like a musical score, paying attention to matters of tempo and dynamics. The film feels longish, and it's not, really. Cinematographer John Toll rightly has no interest in glamorizing the milieu of stolen children, miserable, venal predators or working-class saviors. The palette stays grim and doleful, akin to a film Toll photographed a long time ago, "The Falcon and the Snowman."
As for the other Affleck, the gravel-voiced Casey, he is turning into his own sort of good actor. In "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," the most interesting picture no one's currently paying money to see, Affleck seized the day and proved in his itchy portrayal that he had the stuff. "Gone Baby Gone" finds Affleck and Monaghan working in a relaxed, comfortable vein. They don't push the tougher-than-thou act (although the script gives Affleck one too many easy zingers directed at his crime-solving inferiors). Harris, by contrast, is a reliably superb actor who comes off pretty hammy under Affleck's direction, or lack of it. Sometimes the toughest thing a director can say to an actor - "less, please" - is also the best thing.
"Gone Baby Gone"
Directed by Ben Affleck; screenplay by Affleck and Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; photographed by John Toll; edited by William Goldenberg; music by Harry Gregson-Williams; production design by Sharon Seymour; produced by Alan Ladd Jr., Sean Bailey and Dan Rissner. A Miramax Films release. Running time: 1:54. MPAA rating: R (violence, drug content and pervasive language).
Patrick Kenzie - Casey Affleck
Angie Genarro - Michelle Monaghan
Helene - Amy Ryan
Remy Bressant - Ed Harris
Jack Doyle - Morgan Freeman