Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gone Baby Gone (***)

Directed by Ben Affleck


Ben Affleck has spent his entire career heading huge pictures, and consistently getting pounded by most critics for lackluster performances. For the most part, he seemed not much more than a figure of “handsome man” with nothing but “boyish charm”. This is, though, what makes his turn as director with Gone Baby Gone that much more impressive. An actor, who’s weaved his way in out of the public’s heart more times than he’d like to imagine, has made a film so filled with heart and power, we wonder why he hasn’t been making films before.

The film stars Affleck’s little brother, Casey Affleck as Patrick Kenzie, a private detective who works with his girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The two are hired by a worried middle-aged woman (Amy Madigan) who wants them to help find her young niece who’d been kidnapped three days before. The child’s mother Helene (Amy Ryan), is a strung-out troublemaker, into drugs and pornography, who does little to help find the child, though occasionally breaking down to say how much she misses her.

Patrick and Angie meet Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), the officer in charge of the investigation, and the leader of the Crimes Against Children task force. He once had a child who was kidnapped and murdered, he mentions, and he doesn’t want other parents to feel the pain he felt. They also meet Det. Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), a tough-as-nails cop who’s not afraid to take illegal measures to imprison criminals he knows are innocent. Criminals who abuse children, he feels, are the worst kind of people. With all the people that Patrick must work around, it is inevitable that there will come mistakes in the police works, with people stumbling over each other’s findings. That, though, is where most of the fun of the film comes from, and it shouldn’t be revealed here.

The film’s setting is rooted in Boston, the hometown of the Affleck brothers. This film, much like Mystic River (both are based on novels by Dennis Lehane) really show the deep, dark underbelly of that town. Pain seems to strike deep, and the bad guys are much more colorful and harmful. The films are similar in style, but this film is much more ingrained into it’s setting. Affleck is said to have used a technique of filming many people around the Boston area without there knowledge. Nothing is known of whether or not the people gave their consent to be in the film, but what is accomplished is a feeling of supreme realism. All the characters are elevated by this technique, because everyone is just as spotty as everyone else.

The story itself is based on a novel Affleck once publicly christened as “His favorite”. Again, though, like Mystic River, the strength does not lie within the chase, but the chasers. These men become so enthralled in their search, it seems almost manic. As crime movies go, there are characters with hidden, darker motives, and they are revealed very skillfully. The film’s ability to give us the clues without us even realizing it is uncanny. Unfortunately, the film stalls toward the conclusion, and tries to play cheap tricks. The morals of the film, and the established beliefs tell us that the film should go in another direction. We hope that the ending can be as strong, and powerful as the rest of the film. That is not the case.

That said, what we are given is a troupe of actors so akin to their roles and motivations, it doesn’t seem to matter that it concludes unsatisfactorily. Casey Affleck solidifies his maturation as an actor, carrying this film without a beat. Patrick Kenzie seems to make choices the audience doesn’t agree with (sometimes he doesn’t agree with them himself), but that’s what makes the character so intriguing. His choices and mistakes surround him, till he wants to collapse, and many times his baby face is questioned about his age. Affleck’s performance is something coming-of-age, and you tend to wonder if the real acting talent in the family actually went to someone else.

Morgan Freeman’s Jack Doyle is not a character outside his range; meaning, this is the kind of part Freeman has been playing a lot the last couple of years: wise, authoritative and probably well-worn. Sure, he is not being challenged, but why challenge a man when he plays a kind of role so perfectly? The same can be said for Ed Harris. He seems to be yelling in movies now more than Al Pacino, but his brooding resentfulness creates one of the most colorful, dynamic characters in the film, and Harris has lived off of his dynamics for some time now. Michelle Monaghan is the closest thing we have to the “heart” of the film. She’s a caring woman, despises the scum she encounters, but overall, holds herself in high esteem. Monaghan doesn’t shy away from Angie’s self-sufficient personality. Amy Ryan’s portrait of disastrous parenting in Helene is probably the best performance in the movie. If anything, the film suffers from not having her on the screen more. She encompasses all the sloppy clothes and averted attention that we’ve come to know all to well in so many parents today.

When I think of this film, the adjective that I seem to think of the most is impressive. The film’s lead and the film’s director impressed me immensely, to the point that I wonder why I ever questioned their talent. The film is not perfect, but a lot of films aren’t. What matters is that the movie works. Affleck gets great performances from a great cast, and gets the most out of his dreary hometown of Boston. What else does he need?

No comments: