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Gone Baby Gone Review


RATING:
(4 STARS)

“Gone Baby Gone” is a brutal film that raises some really tough questions. It features some exceptional direction (by rookie filmmaker Ben Affleck) and some terrific acting, but it never quite caught on with audiences. Nor did it catch on with the Academy. For that reason, it qualifies as one of the past decade’s most underrated films. I find it gripping, powerful, and very re-watchable.

On the streets of Boston, a young girl is kidnapped. Her neighborhood is thrown into frenzy, and her family is looking to anyone for help. Enter Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a small-time private detective who is brought on because of his contacts in the Boston crime world. With his partner and girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), he questions some local crooks, hoping for a lead. And he gets one – the girl’s mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), who appears to be the only one not concerned about the little girl’s – her daughter’s – disappearance. Helene details her history of drug use and dealing to Patrick and Angie, as well as the officers involved in the case, Nick Poole (John Ashton), Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), and Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). The information leads to a three-part investigation that will make them question everything they think is right and wrong.

The three portions of the film all raise increasingly tough moral dilemmas. No situation is cut and dry, especially in the final chapter. One character’s decision will have a major impact on so many lives, and it’s never clear whether that impact will be positive or negative. The epilogue only makes it more clear how questionable the character’s decision is. You will likely be pondering said decision for days and days (I still think about it whenever I see it).

Besides a fantastic plot, the best thing about “Gone Baby Gone” is (surprisingly) the direction, courtesy of Ben Affleck. This was one of the best directorial debuts of the last decade. Affleck knows the city of Boston, and infuses the flavor of the neighborhood into his picture with real people and real places. He also does a great job layering the plot so that nothing gets revealed earlier than it should. After this film, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him for the future.

The acting is good overall. Casey Affleck is adequate as the protagonist. He’s a very good character actor (he was great in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” for example), but he doesn’t quite have the charisma to pull off a leading role of this nature. Michelle Monaghan, as his sidekick, is equally adequate. Morgan Freeman has an important part, but doesn’t make the character too dynamic.

The real standouts are Ed Harris and Amy Ryan. Harris’ Remy can best be described as fiery. He has no patience for incompetence, and when Patrick shows up, he thinks he’s dealing with an amateur. Eventually, Patrick proves his worth in Remy’s eyes, and he shares his philosophy on policing with him. It’s a passionate speech that was good enough to have earned Harris an Oscar nomination. It didn’t; instead the majority of the film’s good will went toward Amy Ryan. Helene is, as one character calls her, an abomination. She is a terrible, selfish mother, whose neglect resulted in the disappearance of her daughter. But we eventually learn she’s incredibly vulnerable and really does care about her child. The character is the antithesis of Ryan, and seeing her command the screen the way she does is an absolute delight.

I was surprised “Gone Baby Gone” wasn’t embraced by audiences or the Academy. Critics loved it, and the source material was strong, but it never found its audience. That’s a shame because it’s a thoughtful and intimate piece of filmmaking. It raises some interesting questions and features some strong acting, writing, and direction. Few films, if any, affected me in 2007 the way this one did, and I wish others felt the same. But I will always remember it quite fondly. I fear it will be forgotten one day, but for me, it will be a forgotten gem.

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