All of the reflexive Ben Affleck haters reading this will probably take heart that he appears nowhere on screen during this movie and should be further gratified that he seems to have a real future behind the camera. As a director, he seems to have a sure but almost unnoticeable hand while filming this adaptation of the novel by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane.
Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are private detectives in a working-class South Boston neighborhood when the daughter of a local woman (Amy Ryan) is apparently kidnapped. With mother apparent content to watch Jerry Springer rather than look for her daughter, the girl’s frantic grandmother (Amy Madigan) and uncle (Titus Welliver) hire the pair to “augment” the police investigation and get information out of the people who won’t otherwise talk to the police. This doesn’t go over well with Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) the veteran cop leading the case, who’s famous for having lost his daughter to a kidnapper years before.
Forced to cooperate with Patrick and Angie, Doyle hooks them up with his lead detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton). The unofficial investigation discovers that the mother’s story of watching TV at a friend’s house is a lie and she was probably out drinking and buying cocaine. The kidnapping begins to look like payback for an ill-advised scheme by the mother and her boyfriend to rip off a local drug dealer (Edi Gathegi). Efforts to return the money and retrieve the girl, however, spark a series of tragic events that leads to a disgraced Jack Doyle being forced into retirement.
Unable to let the case go, Patrick keeps digging and begins to learn that the relationship between Remy, the boyfriend and the uncle is friendlier than he thought and may have had more to do with the case than he originally suspected. The end result of the investigation will lead to more bodies on the floor and a moral choice for Patrick with no answer that is either 100% right or 100% wrong.
One of the most effective creative choices was director Affleck’s choice of locations and supporting cast. The film was shot in the same kind of working-class Boston neighborhood in which it is set. Most of the bit parts were cast using local people, giving Gone Baby Gone an authentic look and feel that makes even Mystic River, Clint Eastwood’s brilliant 2003 film of Lehane’s work, feel like Hollywood artifice.
The best thing you can say about the lead performances in a film like this is that they don’t clash with the gritty background. With The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Casey Affleck is having a career year. As a Boston native, he doesn’t have to affect the accent, which was sometimes impenetrable to my ears. His thin, nasal voice makes him an unlikely leading man, but in a character role like this one, Affleck is well within his abilities. Michelle Monaghan manages to be convincingly tough while looking good doing it.
Morgan Freeman’s role is relatively brief but the story allows him a couple scenes to step out of the usual “sage elder” role he frequently inhabits. It is Ed Harris, however, that really forces both Afflecks to raise their game. We expect excellence from Harris but the tough, world-weary Bressant has a lot of layers that the actor subtly suggests, making the film’s later revelations seem credible even if they weren’t predictable.
I don’t know what Ben Affleck’s long term career plans are but, based on the evidence of Gone Baby Gone, he never has to step in front of a camera again.