movie film review | chris tookey

Gone Baby Gone

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  Gone Baby Gone Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
6.67 /10
Patrick Kenzie: Casey Affleck , Angie Gennaro: Michelle Monaghan
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Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane

Released: 2007
Genre: CRIME
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 114

Affleck’s got talent.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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For years it’s been obvious that Ben Affleck doesn’t have his heart in acting, and here at last is the explanation. His first cinema release as writer-director is a masterly adaptation of the novel he proclaims as his favourite, a labour of love that reflects his Boston roots. It’s great at communicating the atmosphere of blue-collar neighbourhoods, the sleaziest regions of the criminal underworld, and the mindset of police who have been paddling through moral sewage for too long.

It’s a tough thriller touching on sordid behaviour, but don’t let that put you off. For once, the foul language and violence are authentic, not gratuitous.

The set-up is intriguing, and horribly topical in view of recent child disappearances. Private eyes Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben’s younger brother, pictured centre) and his girl-friend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, pictured right) specialise in tracking down missing persons, and are hired by a stern, working-class matriarch (Amy Madigan, who you may remember as Kevin Costner’s longsuffering wife in Field of Dreams) and her reformed alcoholic husband Lionel (Titus Welliver from Deadwood) to track down their missing, four year-old niece.

She’s pretty, blonde and looks like Madeleine McCann, which is the reason this picture has taken so long to reach these shores. But fear not: this is no exploitation movie – the book on which it’s based was published in 1994 – and that is where the similarities end.

The more obviously caring of the two gumshoes, played by Monaghan, voices the resistance many of us feel towards films which involve child abduction: “I don’t want to find a child in a dumpster. I don’t want to find a kid after she’s been abused for three days.”

Casey Affleck, though no tough guy, is more hard-boiled, even cracking a joke when he sees the abducted child’s pathetically empty bedroom: “Did they kidnap the furniture too?”

The girl’s single mother Helene (Amy Ryan) personifies the undeserving underclass. She’s a mess, a negligent mother who’s drunk when she isn’t sniffing cocaine. Our hero and heroine use their underworld contacts to discover that Helene has stolen money from a drugs supplier nicknamed Cheese, who may have kidnapped the girl as a bargaining counter.

The investigating cops (who include Morgan Freeman, pictured left, and Ed Harris) are on the trail of a local paedophile, and resent the private eyes’ interference, viewing them as too young and inexperienced to be helpful. “Go back to your Harry Potter book,” rasps Harris.

But the cops become aware that Helene isn’t telling them the whole truth. When Harris follows up the private eyes’ theory and asks the child’s befuddled mother if she knows an underworld figure called Cheese Jean Baptiste, she mumbles “Who?” then mutters “Sounds familiar”. Whereupon Harris loses his temper: “No, it don’t sound familiar, Helene. He’s a violent, sociopathic, Haitian criminal named Cheese – either you know him or you don’t!”

Together, the hardened cops and noticeably softer private eyes follow the clues deep into the Bostonian underworld.

Ben Affleck won an Academy Award for his screenplay (with Matt Damon) for Good Will Hunting. Even though his script here, co-written with childhood friend Aaron Stockard, failed to be nominated for an Oscar, it is vastly superior, with cracking dialogue and the deftest plotting since LA Confidential.

Twists in Hollywood thrillers are far too often designed merely to trick the audience, and cheat by introducing new evidence that we can’t possibly know about. There’s a double twist here which – though admittedly far-fetched - is highly ingenious, and Affleck cleverly parades the clues before us in advance without cheating.

The film also raises important moral issues which are anything but clear-cut. Indeed, our hero and heroine can’t even agree about them. See this movie with someone else, and I guarantee it will have you arguing afterwards about who did the right thing, and who didn’t.

Emotionally, this is powerful stuff, partly because it is so brilliantly acted. The ensemble cast is superior even to the one in that other Bostonian thriller based on a Dennis Lehane novel, Mystic River, where director Clint Eastwood allowed one of his actors, Sean Penn, to go over-the-top. Penn won an Oscar for his histrionics but, to my mind at least, he detracted from the movie’s plausibility.

Ben Affleck keeps his actors under control, and they respond with some of the most truthful performances they have ever given. Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are competent, rather than revelatory. But they’re always realistic, and they unselfishly allow Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan and Amy Madigan to give Oscar-worthy supporting performances (though only Ryan won a nomination).

I give five stars to a movie two or three times a year. This certainly deserves the accolade. It’s a thriller of rare intelligence and maturity, of a kind that comes along maybe once or twice a decade. How it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture at last year’s Academy Awards, ahead of such lightweight fare as Michael Clayton, escapes me. You should see it.

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