October 20, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

I didn't go to the movies for six weeks for a variety of reasons:
  • My Boston Red Sox' triumphant post-season run to the World Championship;
  • We attended widely different live concerts and musicals (Wicked, Nick Lowe, Kiri Te Kanawa, and The New Pornographers);
  • I was sick for a week; and
  • We went out of town for two weekends.
We ended our unintentional theatrical sabbatical with the Affleck Brothers detective noir, Gone Baby Gone. Gone Baby Gone is a sad, gritty detective noir, in the same vein as the other Boston-based Dennis Lehane adaptation, Mystic River, but all the cast members are 15 years younger! When a little girl goes missing in his Dorchester neighborhood, low-rent private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is hired by the girl's aunt to augment the police investigation. Patrick knows all the local palookas, and he pretty quickly begins uncovering dirt which the cops (Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, and John Ashton) can't. Soon Patrick and his partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are in way too deep, and the case ends badly. Patrick can't let it go, and the mystery turns out to be deeper than anyone wants to admit.
We all knew going in that this would be a dark movie. As I told my friend George as we entered the theater, "I am assuming that the little girl dies. After all, the movie is called Gone Baby Gone. That way, if she turns up alive, I'll be happily surprised!" Well, this detective story has a few twists and turns in the second half, but I found them mostly plausible. Just like real crime stories, good detective films include false leads, incorrect conclusions, the wrongly accused, and misdirection. Gone Baby Gone has all of those, and the viewer has a chance to keep up with Patrick's mind the whole way. Near the end, when the pieces start to finally fall into place, director Ben Affleck flashes back to show us these puzzle pieces again: scenes which occurred differently than we assumed, statements with double meanings, and clues which suddenly make sense. Some movies with twist endings magically resolve unsolvable plot illogic this way, but Ben Affleck's twists (he also co-wrote the adapted screenplay) are all plausible. The viewer does not feel cheated during the resolution.
As a big fan of detective stories, I really appreciated the way Patrick worked comfortably amongst the criminals and drug dealers-- when a drug dealer volunteers to help catch some child molesters, Patrick rides along with him. The drug dealer is a genuinely bad guy who should be in prison, but he hates child molesters like anyone else, so he wants Patrick to catch them.
Casey Affleck is excellent as a small-time detective who struggles to define himself when he is forced to make enormous moral choices.
Michelle Monaghan, whom I found very promising in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, is given a underwritten and ultimately disposable role. She tags along with Patrick and occasionally puts in her two cents, but she deosn't seem to be much of a detective.
Amy Ryan is excellent as the missing girl's mother: in her first scene, she appears to be a rather flat (and offensive) "white trash" stereotype, but her character gains depth and moral ambiguity with every successive scene.
Gone Baby Gone is an excellent example of the detective genre. Except for some of the performances, I don't think it really transcends into Oscar territory, but Ben Affleck deserves a lot of credit for co-adapting and directing a solid quality detective noir. (Regal Cinemas Fenway, with Em, George, and Mandy)

Stub Hubby Reviews The Depressing Boston Film Festival