Note: After much pleading, Buzz let me go see this movie to review. Thanks, Buzz!
As a Boston area native, movies about the city usually fall within two distinct categories. There are movies about the city’s academia — Good Will Hunting. And there are movies about the gritty parts of the town — a la Mystic River or even Boondock Saints. At this point, Ben and Casey Affleck have seen, lived and made movies on both side of this off Boston dichotomy (most famously in the first example), but I’m happy to say that their foray into the serious, Gone Baby Gone, is more than a success. From the first five minutes on, GBG is a movie wrought with moral dilemmas, seedy characters, and lies told for questionable reasons. None of these are easy to put into film without being heavy handed, but thanks to an excellent cast, script, and in Ben’s able hands, they created a gut wrenching and, ultimately, great movie.
Being that the movie is based on another of Dennis Lehane’s novels (with a vaguely similar story line, and a punch-in-the-gut ending), it will suffer from the constant comparisons to Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. Luckily, Ben's first effort at directing can withstand those criticisms, even if he's not yet Eastwood. Or, to be fair, dealing with a cast of Eastwood proportions. That being said, one of the best things that Ben had going for him was his actors, especially his brother Casey.
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Time and time again, Ben has asserted that he gave the role to the best actor, who just happened to be his brother. But he was also in the unique (and fortuitous) position for Casey to be one of the first actors to come to mind for the lead character. Casey's crackling voice and boyishly handsome face are perfect for the role. He plays Patrick Kenzie, a private detective hired by the aunt of a missing 4-year-old girl, whose quest to bring the child back home uncovers sides of his city and its people that anyone would be loathe to admit exist.
Smaller roles taken on by greats like Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris, embattled police chief and detective respectively, are stand-out performances in the movie, but the ladies hold their own, too. Relative newcomers like Michelle Monaghan, who plays Patrick's girlfriend/partner and Amy Ryan, who plays the drug addict mother of the missing girl, each bring their own well-constructed intricacies to the story.
The acting carries the movie, but the script provides an excellent vehicle for the complicated and multi-dimensional characters to shine. Or, as the case may be, not shine at all. As with Lehane's other book, this movie deals with the lengths that people will go to do what they feel is right and the vast, gaping gray areas of morality it can create. Bringing children into the mix takes a depressing look at society and makes it utterly heart wrenching. And at times, completely sickening. Honestly, parents of young kids be warned — it may be hard to watch.
The only real downfall of the movie is that the story is sometimes too complicated for its own good. After leaving the theater if I were asked to repeat the whole plot, I would surely get a bit muddled somewhere in the middle. It's not enough to ruin the movie, thankfully, and considering the film's strong points, it's easily forgivable.
Walking out of the theater, you will feel like the wind got knocked out of you. Just like in life, there are no real answers of right vs. wrong and morality changes depending on who you ask. Thankfully (and I will say that I've been rooting for Ben the whole time), Gone Baby Gone takes this difficult subject matter and manages to succeed, above and beyond my wildest expectations.
Photos Courtesy Miramax