Gone Baby Gone Review - Affleck's Directing Debut is Phenomenal
by Alex Billington
October 9, 2007
An extraordinary movie is one that makes you think and one that makes you question your beliefs at the end. I'll tell you already that Gone Baby Gone is one of the few movies this year that leaves you questioning what happened in the end and whether it was right. Ben Affleck takes us on an intense journey in his directorial debut and damn, does he do a great job. I don't know why, but movies set in Boston involving corrupt police have been great recently. Last year it was the Oscar winning The Departed, this year it's the Oscar hopeful Gone Baby Gone.
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, the film follows Missing Persons Private Investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend/partner Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). When a 4-year-old girl is kidnapped right out of her bed, a close family member comes to Patrick and Angie and attempts to hire them. At first they don't want to take the job because the entire city of Boston and the police department is out looking for the girl and the weight of the case would be too heavy if they end up finding her dead. After meeting the mother of the kidnapped girl, Patrick decides to continue his investigation and soon finds himself almost too involved.
Patrick's strength is in his ties with the community because he's not a cop. He's on good terms with the local criminals and it's easier for him to meet with them than it is for him to mingle with cops. The police don't like Patrick interfering with this sensitive search, and when Chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) sends two detectives (Ed Harris and Robert Wahlberg) to work with Patrick, things begin to really intensify. Not only does Patrick think that he's figured out who kidnapped the girl, but he starts to dig too deep and to discover the real truth behind everyone involved, cop or criminal.
Just when you think it's over, you're jolted right back in, thrown in headfirst for another 45 minutes of edge-of-your-seat intensity. These aren't the kind of thrills that scare you, they're the kind that make your heart beat fast and your mind numb from fascination. In the end, however, there is no satisfaction, only questions. I wonder to myself if Patrick made the right decision and whether it's worth making a sacrifice like that for something you believe so strongly in. Compared to the endings of Michael Clayton or In the Valley of Elah, I found the imperfect ending of Gone Baby Gone to be a testament to the braveness of director Ben Affleck.
In a moment late in the film, Michelle Monaghan's character questions, "This is the kind of thing that if you do, Patrick, you want to be sure. Are you sure?" If that question were posed to Ben Affleck on whether he should jump ship from acting to directing, the answer is a resounding "yes!" Affleck's acting career has been heading downwards ever since Daredevil, with the only exception being his portrayal of George Reeves in Hollywoodland. I've wondered whether directing and writing would be his calling, and I can now say with confidence that they are. By contrast, Sean Penn just released his latest directorial feature, Into the Wild, and while much of the film is great, the flaws lie primarily in Penn's hands. Here in Gone Baby Gone it's perfect, as if Affleck had been an accomplished director for years.
Finally, there are some performances deemed "Oscar-worthy" that even I agree with. Each character added a unique touch to the entire film as if each were a piece of a puzzle. From Michelle Monaghan's tenderness to Amy Ryan's grit as both a druggy and a grieving mother, to Ed Harris's strikingly powerful dialogue, and especially to Casey Affleck's commanding yet sincere lead, each was a worthy addition. Morgan Freeman is the only one who seemed a bit more rigid than the otherwise phenomenal cast, but it's Ed Harris who stands out. He is guaranteed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, and I'll be rooting for a win.
With that, I don't want to lead you on lest I be accused of spoiling the film. It's a better reveal to find out that a certain character you thought trustworthy turns out to be just the opposite. In Gone Baby Gone, though, I question Patrick's choice and whether he made the right decision. It's guaranteed that when you walk out of the theater at the end you'll be tearing yourself apart wondering if what he did was right. It's that kind of thought-provoking filmmaking that I admire the most.