"Gone Baby Gone" is the first film I've seen in some time to confront the veracity of consequences, that unbearable burden of conscience, with fearless authenticity. There are no happy endings here, just life walking despondently down a dark path, making this picture glow with heavy dramatic nuance that's impossible to flush out of your system. It's the directorial debut of actor Ben Affleck, and it announces a mighty talent behind the camera to come.
When a little girl is abducted from her Boston home, relatives (including Amy Madigan) hire private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to help augment the search. Hitting the local dives to rustle up clues to the girl's whereabouts, Kenzie starts to share information with two cops (Ed Harris and John Ashton) who are working the case. With the coked-up mother (Amy Ryan, in an incredible performance) deceptive and the police captain (Morgan Freeman) seemingly unaware of the details, Kenzie finds his eyes opened by the depth of betrayal, lies, and death that accompany this otherwise straightforward missing child case.
What makes "Gone" such a remarkable foray into neighborhood crime is the source material. Adapted by Affleck and Aaron Stockard from Dennis Lehane's novel of the same name, "Gone" is a kissing cousin to the author's most famous work, "Mystic River." Both stories share vivid detailing of Boston neighborhood code and how it shapes criminal investigations while doling out its own definitions of justice. Clint Eastwood's cinematic take on "Mystic" was meditative and anguished. Affleck's perspective is more streetwise and internal.
Returning him to the gonzo "Southie" streets that made him a star 10 years back with "Good Will Hunting," Affleck knows the area like the back of his hand. Right from the starter pistol, "Gone" drips with the kind of beer-splattered cultural meticulousness the sucks the viewer into the setting. We are there with Kenzie as he makes his rounds in the seedy bars, grungy drug hovels, and unlit street corners to collect his information. Affleck treats the locations as hallowed ground, retaining the uneasy neighborhood pride that defends even the most derelict of shelters. "Gone" is a place where despair meets fatigued dignity, and Affleck emphasizes every last beat of Beantown bravado with his amazing attention to community detail.
"Gone" is an idiosyncratic tale of crime, told from the perspective of Kenzie and his weary ways, but twisting through a myriad of subplots covering corruption, abuse, and pedophile horrors. Couple that with the screenplay's machine-gun-like unloading of plot points and character names, and the effect can be dizzying; to counter the weight of the story, Affleck offers rich streams of bruiser dialogue, which rolls off the actors' tongues with roller-coaster malice. This is sold exceptionally well by Casey Affleck, who defies his beanpole frame to become Lee Marvin Jr., keeping to a strident Boston code of ethics as he pushes himself up into the faces of his enemies and informants. "Gone" contains a rich tapestry of performances that deepen the psychological well of the moment, but Affleck is the anchor, and under his big brother's watch, he gives a career-best turn as an innocent sent on a mission that will curse his life forever.
"Gone Baby Gone" pushes through an incredible amount of left turns in the final act, sorting out the subplots and positioning itself in a manner that explores the shrapnel left behind when steadfast morality is detonated. Throughout the film Affleck cushions the central nightmare with reoccurring images of religious icons and law enforcement camaraderie, leading to a conclusion that places the idea of right and wrong on trial, with Affleck putting Kenzie's final judgment call into the hands of the audience.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), the DVD release of "Gone Baby Gone" captures the streetwise grit and grain that Affleck was pursuing. In the daylight, the tonality of the cinematography is exceptional, bringing out the gloom and threat of the premise. Evening sequences and general dark locations turn to mush, with black levels unable to reveal the detail and personality expected.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix brings ideal clarity to the twisty Boston accents, balanced ideally with the score. The surrounds don't get much of a workout here, but the mood is set with minimal sonic effort.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Ben Affleck and writer Aaron Stockard is an appealing enhancement of the feature film. While Affleck seems to be under the weather and both men barely raise their voice above a whisper, the discussion is a tremendous informational tool to better understand where "Baby" received its robust personality.
Affleck can be awfully hard on himself here, pointing out various mistakes in his direction, his own unplanned cameo in the picture, and the wonders of working with entrenched neighborhood extras. The running theme of the commentary seems to be the digestion of Lehane's source material, and how the writers fought every moment to make sure the narrative was clear enough for mass consumption without losing the subtlety of the book.
Deleted Scenes (17 minutes) offers an extended opening to the film, which introduces the partnership of Patrick and Angie more meticulously, leading to another dropped transitional sequence of intimacy between the characters. The packaging wants you to believe the alternate ending included here is "thought-provoking," but it's really just a minor deviation from the original film. These scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Affleck and Stockard.
"Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck" (7 minutes) is a featurette exploring the director's ease working in his former backyard. Utilizing the natural decay and unforgettable individuality of the Boston locations, Affleck was able to create "Gone's" world in vivid detail. Charming BTS footage shows the filmmaker overseeing the shoot.
"Capturing Authenticity: Casting 'Gone Baby Gone'" (9 minutes) is an extension of the "Going Home" featurette, only now the focus is on the cast and how the actors became involved with Affleck and the film. Of particular interest is Casey Affleck, and how he was transformed from a character actor to a leading man.
No theatrical trailer is provided, but peeks at "No Country for Old Men," "Dan in Real Life," and "Becoming Jane" are included.
"Gone" is a film about consequences, and those moments are what steal it away from a procedural, twist-heavy crime saga and lend it awareness that questions and is allowed room to fail. It's cinematic excellence from Affleck, who takes Lehane's prose and splashes it with cold water, opening the senses of the story, turning it into an unexpected emotional sucker punch.