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Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone
2007 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 114 min. / Street Date February 12, 2008 / 29.99
Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, Edi Gathegi
Cinematography John Toll
Production Design Sharon Seymour
Art Direction Chris Cornwall
Film Editor William Goldenberg
Original Music Harry Gregson-Williams
Written by Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard from a novel by Dennis Lehane
Produced by Ben Affleck, Sean Bailey, Alan Ladd Jr., Danton Rissner
Directed by Ben Affleck

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Savant has never been impressed by Ben Affleck's acting choices or his screen persona, but he's proven himself to be a fine film director with Gone Baby Gone, an intense crime drama he wrote with Aaron Stockard from Dennis Lahane's novel. Lahane is also the author of Mystic River, which was filmed a few years back by Clint Eastwood. A splendid cast takes us deep into the tough side of Boston and makes us believe its complicated storyline, some of which becomes rather far-fetched toward the end. It doesn't matter, because Gone Baby Gone maintains dramatic integrity throughout.

The film has been well received by critics but didn't attract the attention given tough, high profile films by the Coen Brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson. Supporting actress Amy Ryan is the film's big winner so far; she was also singled out for her performance in this year's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.


Owing to their inside knowledge of their Boston neighborhood, private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro (Casey Affleck & Michelle Monaghan) are asked to supplement the search for a kidnapped child, Amanda McCready. Amanda's irresponsible mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is suspicious of the idea, but her brother Lionel and sister in-law Bea (Amy Madigan) are desperate for Amanda to be found. Tolerated by Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), Patrick and Angie provide leads that team them up with investigators Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton). Helene finally admits that drug lord Cheese (Edi Gathegi) may have kidnapped Amanda because Helene stole $130,000 in drug money. When it becomes likely that the kidnapping is much more complicated than that, Patrick and Angie find themselves deeply entangled in the case's moral underpinnings.

Ben Affleck roots his film in Boston street reality, where sassy kids shout obscenities at passing cars and neighbors display flags while they socialize on the stoops of their houses. As Affleck says in one of his commentaries, filming this story on the cheap in Toronto or Canada would simply not have worked. The Boston accents are so strong that the DVD's subtitles are almost a necessity for following parts of the story.

Gone Baby Gone is about the kidnapping of a child, whose mother is a cocaine-addled lowlife. Helene MaCready is allergic to the cops for good reason: she's been working as a mule for a drug pusher, and is convinced that Amanda has been taken to force her to give the money back. Concerned P.I. Patrick Kenzie bulls his way into the tough bars for information, and eventually finds out that the pusher didn't even know he was robbed until after Amanda was taken. Patrick is sidetracked by an effort to find a pedophile who may not only have Amanda, but also another kidnapped boy.

To recover Amanda quickly, Patrick and Angie bend the rules with tough detectives Remy and Poole, a gambit that places all of them and their Captain Doyle in legal jeopardy. That's when Patrick shuffles various inconsistencies in the case, and realizes that the solution is all much closer to home than anybody could have guessed.

Movies about children in jeopardy run the risk of tastelessness but Gone Baby Gone never goes in that direction. The private detectives are almost afraid to succeed, because they know that in all likelihood little Amanda will be found dead. If Amanda is found and returned to her deadbeat mom, she'll be raised in conditions almost certain to bring about a bad end --- the poor neighborhoods are full of addicted, irresponsible offspring of addicted, irresponsible parents. The real issue is the old conflict between what's legal and what is the right thing to do. Patrick's opening voiceover is the key to the film's moral dilemma ... it's not the choices you make but your commitment to seeing through the consequences of those choices. Gone Baby Gone avoids simple sentiment; it has integrity.

Casey Affleck affected a quirky screen presence in this year's Jesse James movie, but the same mannerisms seem appropriate to his thoughtful character here. Patrick Kenzie only appears to be staring dumbly; in actuality he's as sharp as a tack. In one scene in a bar Kenzie is certain that he's about to be murdered for what he knows. He shouts out the 'big secret' several times, for all the witnesses to hear, making it pointless for the bad guy to kill him. Now why hasn't a movie hero thought of that before?

We expect fine work from Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, a long-standing couple in real life. It's good to see John Ashton back in a substantial film role, after remembering him fondly as Robert De Niro's gruff bounty hunter adversary back in Midnight Run. The film's real standout is Amy Ryan as Helene MaCready, the foul-mouthed worst mother of the year. Ryan figures in only a handful of scenes but she's stunning in all of them. Helene is by turns stubbornly argumentative, a crude tease, terrified, and genuinely overwhelmed by grief. The awards attention she's getting is well deserved.

John Toll's camera roams the streets of Boston, showing a society only glimpsed in other movies (and overstated in Mystic River). The film has good action sequences and a particularly tense scene in which Kenzie and his detective friends raid a house to capture a pedophile. Gone Baby Gone doesn't exploit its grim subject matter, but it doesn't shy away from it either.

Miramax's DVD of Gone Baby Gone is the expected excellent enhanced transfer of this satisfying, exciting thriller, rated R mostly for language. Casey Affleck and Aaron Stockard contribute a thoughtful commentary; Affleck comes off as a thoughtful director trying to make a good show. They also comment on a set of deleted scenes. An alternate opening and ending are the most interesting of these. Two featurettes provide some insights on the filming and Affleck's 'dream cast', a description that we fully agree with. Some of the other actors blab on about Affleck's instant prowess as a director, but we're used to that kind of schmooze, and on this film the praise has been earned.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Gone Baby Gone rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent 5.1 surround
Supplements: Commentary with Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, Deleted scenes with optional commentary, Featurettes on the film and its actors.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 11, 2008

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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