"Gone Baby Gone" is all there

Oct. 23, 2007, midnight | By Monica Wei | 14 years, 9 months ago

Ben Affleck's first directing endeavor shines

Ben Affleck can be written off as an actor who relies on a pretty-boy face rather than talent, but thankfully this time he avoids the spotlight. In "Gone Baby Gone," Affleck steps behind the scenes as director and delivers an emotional and disturbing film that delves into the lives of those who fall through the cracks.

In "Gone Baby Gone," Affleck explores the lives and interactions of the inhabitants of Dorchester, a rough and dingy neighborhood in Boston. Blond little Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien) disappears from her home, and her distraught aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) hires private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to look deeper into the case and talk to the people who don't talk to the police. Angie has doubts about the case, which she says has unhappy ending written all over it, but Patrick accepts the request, and the two are plunged into a sordid world of unhappy families, pedophiles and corrupt police.

Photo: Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are private investigators in "Gone Baby Gone." Photo courtesy of Miramax Films.

The film focuses less on the kidnapping itself and more on the people brought together from the cracks of Dorchester because of Amanda's kidnapping. Patrick grew up in the neighborhood where the disappearance occurred (he even remembers Amanda's mother from high school), and contacts his old friends, among them a coke dealer, to help in the investigation. Ben Affleck delves deep into the lives of those involved with Amanda and brings out the pain and emotion of those living in this rough neighborhood, casting these people in an authentic light that is neither flattering nor degrading.

Stereotypes of those who live the hard-knock life are pushed to the breaking point, especially in the case of Amanda's mother, Helene McCready (Amy Ryan), who looks like she walked off the set of Jerry Springer. Unreliable and involved with drugs, she pushes the sympathies of those surrounding her to the limit with her incessant whiny complaints, daring the audience to blame solely her for the disappearance of her daughter.

Ben Affleck takes a risk in casting his brother as lead Patrick Kenzie, but Casey rises to the occasion and delivers an emotional performance that cuts deep. His facial expressions vary and change in just the right ways and he convincingly portrays the demeanor of the complex, thoughtful Patrick even though his baby face and slim frame do seem out of place at times.

The moral questions of family and right and wrong posed in this film are riveting and disturbing. Does an irresponsible mother deserve to have her child taken away from her? Does anyone really have the right to answer that question? Ben Affleck skillfully twists "Gone Baby Gone" around these issues, forcing Patrick to make a decision that ultimately has the power to change Amanda's life.

But despite the authenticity and superb acting, "Gone Baby Gone" has one major flaw " it is too clearly broken into chapters, and the movie feels like three distinct segments that aren't quite related. Patrick and Angie search for Amanda, Patrick takes on pedophiles and Patrick and Angie fall into a conspiracy involving the Boston police. The lack of smooth transitions makes the film feel disjointed at times.

Even with the transition flaws, "Gone Baby Gone" shines as a dark exploration of the issues of family. Its depiction of life in a rough and hard neighborhood is both authentic and scary, distinguishing "Gone Baby Gone" from all the other films that deal with kidnapped children and distraught families.

"Gone Baby Gone" is rated R, for violence, drug content and pervasive language. It is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Monica Wei. Monica is an unfortunate piece of fruit that has been suspended in a gelatin cup. Okay, not really, but sometimes she feels like one. Monica the strawberry chunk enjoys reading, sitting in trees and watching the clouds go by. She thinks that anything tastes good … More »

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