Review: Gone Baby Gone
PLOT: When the kidnapping of a young girl creates a media circus in a small Boston town, two private investigators are hired to assist the police. Although they dont want to take the case, circumstances help them decide otherwise. Once involved, the search becomes more and more heartbreaking as they find themselves among drug dealers, pedophiles and a mother who is too busy getting stoned while her daughter was taken from her own home. As every day passes, the chances of finding the girl alive grow less and less. Yet things are not always what they seem when it comes to a broken family, a missing child and over worked police officers.
I wouldnt feel right calling GONE BABY GONE a thriller, even though it feels as typical as a Hollywood produced mystery can, right down to casting Morgan Freeman as a police captain searching for a missing girl. Yet, something is different here. This is not a James Patterson adaptation with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, it is based on a novel by MYSTIC RIVER scribe, Dennis Lehane with a screenplay by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard. It is a story rich with flawed characters and immoral and sometimes moral decisions. It is soaked in its Bostonian feel, taking place in the neighborhood of Dorchester. The streets are filled with the poor and the working class who constantly deal with just trying to keep their head above water, let alone the idea of a kidnapped child. Ben Affleck knows this territory well, and keeps GONE BABY GONE rich in atmosphere and when it comes right down to it, this is nothing like your average genre flick.
We are introduced to private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan). A couple who make a business out of missing persons. When Bea and Lionel McCready show up asking them to search for their niece Amanda, they are at first wary about taking on a case with such a possibly tragic outcome. But when they meet the young girls mother Helene (Amy Ryan), an addict who seems to show considerably mixed remorse for her missing daughter, they decide to take the case.
They soon find themselves working with jaded police captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and Detective Remy Besant (Ed Harris), which is not altogether a mutually respected arrangement. But when the police realize that the two P.I.s have more accessibility to the local neighborhoods, the partnership is reluctantly formed. As Patrick and Angie learn about local pedophiles, and an assortment of questionably undesirable Bostonians, they seem to be getting nowhere fast. And the deeper they get involved, they find themselves facing their own morality as Patrick refuses to give up finding this lost little girl.
Affleck takes what worked with his realistic dialogue from GOOD WILL HUNTING and seems to create a vivid canvas. Patrick and Angie at first glance, seem much too young to be involved in such serious business, but in the end it works. The local color and the flair of Boston surround them with ultra-realism, much like an early Scorsese film, especially something like MEAN STREETS. Casey Affleck is having a great year with his Oscar worthy performance in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD and his deeply felt work here. He is a believable everyday man who is forced to make some serious choices that will affect peoples lives on a monumental level. And I bought it, I bought the choices he made and I was even able to take him in as this little guy bullying up to people that could tear him apart.
Each and every performance is right on, as Ben made a specific choice to give the smaller roles to locals in the Boston area. They add to the realism giving the film a dirty and truthful quality. I really respected that yet at the same time, it seemed that keeping that sense of truism almost left some of the emotional quality of the film empty. Dont get me wrong, its hard not to feel something when you are watching a movie about child abduction, but frankly, I thought that Id be a mess and I really wasnt. Its not that I cared less about these lives because of who they were and where or how they lived, I just felt that much of the time they were so desperate to make it feel dirty and raw that I was almost pulled away from the story at hand. It left me feeling less of an emotional impact than I thought it would.
But still, this is a quality motion picture that raises questions that nobody wants to answer. Much of that success goes to Ben Affleck. But the true star of the film is Amy Ryan as Helene, the poster child for unfit motherhood. She is pathetic, vile and at times, lost and confused. This woman is the kind that youd see on Jerry Springer as you question why she would even want her daughter back. Or a better question, why has social services never been called on her. This is an incredibly powerful performance and it should be remembered come Oscar time.
All this creates a story that will never feel acceptable. It is horrible and wrong that any child should have to suffer. There is not a single reason why it should happen. And GONE BABY GONE addresses the seriousness of the issue by not making a Lifetime movie of the week, but by creating a dark and lyrical exploration of the suffering that goes on, not just for the child, but for the family and frankly, anyone who has a heart. Yet, the seriousness of the issue sometimes feels lost in the quest for realism and edgy filmmaking. But this is still a very impressive achievement for Ben, especially taking on such a serious subject for his directorial debut and pulling it off with the assuredness of a pro.
My rating 8/10 -- JimmyO
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