This photo provided by Miramax shows Casey Affleck, left, and Michelle Monaghan in "Gone Baby Gone."
I've never read one of Dennis Lehane's novels, but if anything about the man's personality can be gained by looking at the film adaptations of two of his best known works, "Mystic River," and this week's "Gone Baby Gone," the guy must be a real live-wire at parties. If you were one of the few people who eschewed ("chewed" get it?) the Alaska vampire flick, "30 Days of Night" and went to see "Gone" instead, you appreciate the irony in the previous sentence.
But depressing as it was, "Mystic River" was one of the best movies I saw that whole year, and "Gone Baby Gone" looks to be following in the same vein.
Casey Affleck, in his second major acting turn of the year (the first was playing Robert Ford in "The Assassination of Jesse James.") is Patrick Kenzie, Bostonian, private detective, and all-around regular guy. When he and his partner/girlfriend Angie hear about a recent abduction of 4-year-old Amanda McCready from the neighborhood, they are sad but, like anyone, their reaction is mostly, "That's too bad, but what can you do?"
The answer comes the next morning as the distraught aunt and uncle of little Amanda show up on their doorstep, begging for help. They are to "augment" the investigation, which basically means shaking down locals suspicious of talking to the cops. This they do, but though answers are there to be found, they usually only lead to more questions.
Through twists and turns, tragedy and triumph, "Gone Baby Gone" spins a complex tale of complex people caught in a moral conundrum and asks them, and the audience, to consider the question, "Do we do what's right for our children, or for ourselves? And where do those two motivations meet and diverge?" Rest assured, there's no easy answer.
Director Ben Affleck, in his debut behind the camera, has given us a beautiful, challenging film. There are a few problems with character motivation and a plot hole or two, but these minor annoyances are far outweighed by the depth of feeling given to the emotionally-charged subject of the safety of our children and the environment in which they're brought up.
Shot with loving detail in Affleck's native Boston, "Gone" plays almost as a companion piece to Affleck's other major critical success, "Good Will Hunting," in its affection for the area and its people. Affleck, both in an effort to add realism, and to save on costs, often used actual neighborhood people instead of paid extras. This gives an authenticity to the film that is only enhanced by the brilliant acting employed throughout.
Very good in supporting roles are Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and John Ashton, best known for his work as Taggert in the "Beverly Hills Cop" series. Michelle Monaghan, as detective partner Angie Gennaro has completely redeemed herself, in my eyes, for the travesty that was "Heartbreak Kid."
My first thought on her role was that, though she was fine, she really didn't have much to do. But upon further reflection, it occurred to me that, in fact, she has plenty to do, and does it, without being showy. She essentially becomes the heart and conscience of the duo and eventually frames the core moral dilemma of the film. How you feel about her ultimately has more to do with where you fall on the issue than it does with her acting.
No one, however, can hold a candle to the heartbreakingly real performance given by Casey Affleck as Patrick. Risky as the decision to cast his, up 'til now, strictly supporting-player-brother may have been, Ben was absolutely right. Casey Affleck plays a good man with the incredible weight that common decency can place on an individual in his position.
Possibly most impressive is that the screenwriters (Ben Affleck, himself) have given Patrick no crutch to lean his acting on. He's not a traditional anti-hero in that he's not a drunk, an addict, or a misogynist. He doesn't have a tortured past, and he doesn't cheat on his girlfriend. He's not the rookie, fresh out of detective school or the grizzled pro, out for one last job.
He's just a good guy, who wants to make a difference and to keep a promise to a grieving mother, whether she deserves it or not.
Affleck plays his role to the hilt, making us believe him in every scene, and helping us forget any other problems the movie may have.
"Gone Baby Gone" is the kind of movie that you'll want to talk about on the way home, and maybe even see again, just to figure out the finer points. It's a rare example of a kind of movie-making that is getting lost, but is obviously not gone. Grade: A
"Gone Baby Gone" is rated R for language and violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.
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