Gone Baby Gone

Ben Affleck

9/10 (complex plot difficult to execute well)

This movie was a very pleasant surprise, given that a rational person, upon hearing that Ben Affleck is directing his first movie, would probably roll their eyes and say, “So what?” Except it was actually really good, and Affleck’s handling of some very convoluted and morally ambiguous material demonstrates an artistic sensibility that is lacking in most of the crappy movies in which he acts.

Affleck’s highest marks arguably come from the nepotism of casting his kid brother Casey in the lead role, amateur detective Patrick Kenzie. Anybody who calls younger Affleck a revelation in this role didn’t see “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” or “Gerry,” with Matt Damon. The kid definitely got the acting chops of the family, and in “Gone” he delivers a gritty, authentic performance as a young man fed up with his Boston neighborhood going to the dogs.

It’s a missing girl mystery, and there are many twists and turns, some more believable than others (I’m guessing the credibility gap here can be blamed at least as much on Lehane as on B. Affleck). But the highlight is the acting (in addition to C. Affleck, there’s Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, and Amy Ryan) and the moral themes that play out with the story. No, this is not ground-breaking art, but it’s solid and above all competent, a quality that is in short enough supply these days.

The ambiguous ending of the film is to be expected from a Dennis Lehane adaptation (of “Mystic River” fame). So while audiences can’t expect a pat Hollywood-ending where good guys win and bad guys die, the resolution is satisfying nonetheless, precisely because it challenges you as a viewer. I give points to a movie that leaves you with good discussion-fodder afterward, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint in that respect. There is no right answer here, and both Afflecks handle the subject very capably.

So why should you see this film? Mainly because of Casey Affleck and a consistenly engaging, morally challenging story. But on a less-cinematic level: because it will give you more faith in Ben Affleck, Hollywood, and life in general.

In a world where a hotshot heart-throb — who has only worked in one decent film (“Hollywoodland”) since the late 90s — can suddenly decide that he wants to change, to do something of substance, and then produce this . . . well, in that world, there is still hope for our species.

Makes me excited for his next directing effort “The Town,” due to be released Sept. 2010.

31 March 2010

Other Reviews for “Gone”


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