ICYMI: Gone Baby Gone (2007)
In recent years, Ben Affleck has received deserved praise for his work as a director. He found box office success in 2010 with the skillfully directed heist drama The Town, which also earned Jeremy Renner a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. Affleck was robbed of at least a nomination for Best Director for his exemplary work on 2012’s Best Picture, Argo. The film may have played fast and loose with the facts, but no one can deny the way Director Affleck ratcheted up the tension to create a truly breath-taking thriller. He took a bit of a step back with the underwhelming Live By Night but there is no denying his skill as a filmmaker and I can see him having a long, sustained career not unlike Clint Eastwood.
Affleck announced his presence as a burgeoning auteur with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. Based on Dennis LeHane’s best seller, the film is an audacious and intricate thriller with Affleck showing surprising skill and craft in his directorial debut. The film stars Ben’s kid brother Casey as Patrick Kenzie, a Boston area private investigator. Despite his youth, he finds regular work because of his knack for finding “the people who started in the cracks and then fell through.” Patrick, along with his partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are brought in to help with the high-profile kidnapping of a four-year-old girl in a working-class Boston suburb. The police are stumped and highly resistant to the assistance of these outsiders, but Patrick and Angie know the neighborhood and more importantly, people of this close-knit neighborhood would be less likely to talk to the police.
The PI duo is hired by the young girl’s aunt (Amy Madigan) who hopes this situation may be a wake-up call to girl’s actual mother, Helene (a breakthrough Amy Ryan who earned an Oscar nomination), whose drug addiction brings plenty of unsavory suspects to the forefront. The official investigation is being run by a hard-noised Ed Harris and his partner, played by character actor John Ashton (best known for the Beverly Hills Cop films). Overseeing everything is Captain Jack Doyle, a wonderfully stoic Morgan Freeman, who is skeptical of Patrick and Angie’s involvement but eager for any help as the hours tick away.
We watch as Patrick and Angie scour every crevice in the surrounding neighborhoods, with plenty of intrigue and resistance from cop and criminal alike. Because the film is based on a Dennis LeHane book, there are plenty of twists and turns as well as relevant back stories. In a sense, the film belongs in the same cinematic world of Clint Eastwood’s 2003 masterpiece, Mystic River (also based on a LeHane novel). Ben Affleck directs with patience and attention to detail, there is nary a wasted moment of screen time. Everything leads up to Patrick and Angie getting to the heart of the mystery and watching their partnership seemingly dissolve as Patrick makes a heartbreaking decision.
The performances are all first rate. Casey Affleck certainly brings his Boston background to life and makes a very believable neighborhood sleuth. Michelle Monaghan again proves, like she did in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, that she is a formidable leading lady. But Director Affleck certainly lucked out with a supporting cast the includes the aforementioned Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Madigan, Morgan Freeman and even Michael K. Williams aka Omar from The Wire in a small role. And Amy Ryan is truly gut-wrenching as a lifelong addict and neglectful mother who finds a way to capitalize on her daughter’s abduction. Her last scene is truly chilling.
Maybe Affleck was just lucky in his first go around as a director. With Gone Baby Gone, he had great source material, a stellar cast, and filmed in his hometown of Boston. Or maybe, he was just skillful enough to take all of these elements and bring them to the screen without getting in the way. Or maybe he just followed the advice of golfer Gary Player who once proclaimed, “The harder you work, the luckier you get.”