Good Baby Good
Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel, Gone Baby Gone is a sobering, unreserved affair that manages maximum effectiveness in spite of a few ragged edges, unlikely scenarios and risky maneuvers. The film marks Ben Affleck's directorial debut and stars his younger brother, Casey, who's quickly becoming a hot Hollywood asset. Throw in strong performances by an ensemble supporting cast, including Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, and Morgan Freeman, and you've got a taut, intelligent thriller that rivals Mystic River for impact and The Departed for entertainment value.
Set in the rough, working class Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, the film involves private dicks Patrick Kenzie (Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) who are hired to augment the police investigation of a 4-year-old missing girl. The police, led by Capt. Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), are on the trail of the suspect, but the little girl's Aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) is not satisfied. So she hires Kenzie and Gennaro because she knows they have access to characters in the neighborhood that won't snitch to the police.
Initially raising suspicion is the missing girl's mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), who is a little less than enthused at having private detectives snooping around. Our sympathy for Helene is mixed at best, as she's about one of the most unfit mothers we've ever seen on film. She's a sleazy party girl more interested in entertaining her own whimsies than in caring for her precious child. Ryan handles her Helene perfectly, and credit director Affleck for not understating the importance of this character and for not overdoing the nuances. Helene's despicable habits and hopeless demeanor set up the moral dilemma that forms the very foundation of the entire story. Failure with this one single character would cause a sure collapse of the whole house of cards. We're forced to ask ourselves whether terrible parents deserve to keep their children, and if not, who has the right to take them away.
Uncomfortable questions for sure, but ones that go unanswered as well. Much in the same way we struggled with the messages thrown at us by Paul Haggis in 2005's Crash, here we face equally heady topics but no answers are provided. It's up to the viewer and there'll be as many opinions as there are audience members.
Performances by Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman as Bean Town cops are equally compelling. Hollywood rarely portrays Boston's finest in a flattering light, and we're not gonna change that here. Harris is Remy Bressant, a brutal homicide investigator who may know more than he is telling, and Freeman is a police captain whose own child was kidnapped years ago and never found. Together, with an interesting collection of distinctive side characters and actual Bostonites who populate the background, everyone involved give top-notch efforts. We get a very strong sense of working class Boston. Casey Affleck follows his brilliant turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with an equally nuanced one here. His Patrick is the moral compass to all persons bad, but he never comes off as high and mighty nor is he ever preachy. He's just a regular guy working to solve a missing child case and he's about the only character we'd feel comfortable approaching. He's a beacon in a trough of slop.
About the only flaws with Gone Baby Gone are some minor missteps with the script and the story itself. The plot drifts and lurches a few times too many. Like a roller coaster car attempting to catch its track, the story quickly builds to what seems like a conclusion, only to fade to black before jerking forward again. It does this no fewer than three times, and while I didn't want the film to end on either of those fades, the pacing was just a bit too rough and unpolished… but not unexpected with a first-time director. I didn't completely buy into the ending either, but perhaps that's because I tend to look at the glass as half full when I say "good people just wouldn't do that."
Gone Baby Gone is an entertaining watch, but a heartbreakingly difficult one if we try to take it to heart and put ourselves in Patrick Kenzie's shoes. Standing by innocently without thought is not an option, as the presented conundrums demand our participation. But that's what good films do, and with Gone Baby Gone, Affleck gives us the floor. What would you do?
(Released by Miramax Films and rated "R" for violence, drug content and pervasive language.)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com.