Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes

Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone" is one of the most unexpected directorial debuts of 2007. Having persevered through an acting career that has had its share of success and, more recently, failure, Affleck has hit back with a vengeance with this surprisingly assured venture behind the camera. Adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the source novel for Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River," "Gone Baby Gone" is a somber, moody crime story of loss and deception in the slums of Boston. It is material that Affleck seems to understand well, and his personal identification with the characters gives the film an intimacy that enhances the often troubling events.

After the disappearance of a four-year-old girl from a Dorchester apartment, two inexperienced private detectives are called on to augment the search, which has left the Boston police mystified. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), both in their early 30s, reluctantly take the case after pleading from the child's aunt (Amy Madigan) hits them emotionally. Using his street connections, Patrick investigates the neighborhood locals, who are largely into crime and uncooperative with the police. The information he gathers brings a certain amount of suspicion on Helene McCready, the little girl's mother (Amy Ryan), who is a drug addict and occasional drug mule. From the onset, Helene displays a chilling indifference to her daughter's disappearance, except when she has a news camera on her.

Overseeing the case is Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), a longtime officer nearing retirement who lost a child of his own and has particular interest in finding the girl. Both he and Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) disapprove of the private investigators, whom they believe are too young and naïve to offer any substantial support. When Patrick's interrogations lead him to a drug dealer who may be holding the child for ransom, he and Bressant resort to making illegal deals that bring out the ire of Captain Doyle, who wants the case handled efficiently and without legal problems. As the search deepens and the prospect of finding the girl appears increasingly unfeasible, Patrick and Angie are forced to question the extent to which they will go to continue the search and how emotionally involved they should allow themselves to become with the case.

With a career that has sputtered and sputtered over the years before finally crashing and burning (thanks, in part, to one highly publicized romance a few years ago), Ben Affleck is probably the last person most people thought capable of crafting such a perfectly realized movie, especially on his first time at bat. The film is set in his hometown of Boston, with which Affleck seems to share an almost mystical connection. Boston is not just a backdrop for the story, but rather it is brought to life with a style and personality of its own. Affleck wisely chose to film on location in actual Boston neighborhoods, even casting some of the locals in small roles, to give the movie an authentic air. The sense of community and history is tangible in every street scene, giving the movie a raw and gritty flavor.

The casting of Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother, is a stroke of genius. Like the location shooting and local extras, Casey maintains a very real and honest presence throughout the film. He effortlessly conveys the determination, naiveté, and underlying goodness of his character, a decidedly unconventional movie hero. We identify with his character because he makes him so genuine. Ed Harris and Amy Ryan also do wonders with tricky parts. They manage to find a middle ground between likeable and unlikeable to make their characters painfully human, flawed, but not unredeemable. As the coke-addicted, white-trash mother, Ryan especially takes what could have been a stereotype in the hands of another actress and evokes both sympathy and revulsion from the audience.

It is difficult to discuss "Gone Baby Gone" without revealing too much, so I am keeping my review to a minimum. It should be said, however, that this is no typical crime caper, and Affleck is more than up to the challenge of keeping the pace and flow steady as various curves and twists are uncovered. This is not a cut-and-dry Hollywood film, and there are many aspects here that will leave audiences questioning both the actions of the characters and what they would do in similar circumstances. The moral ambiguities of the characters and their motives set the movie apart as one of the more provocative films of the year and one that viewers will most likely not feel indifferent toward.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment, under their Miramax label, has released "Gone Baby Gone" in a very good release. The film is presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. Picture quality is a little grainy throughout, but this seems to be the intended look. It certainly adds to the grittiness. Colors look true, and the image is sharp. Black levels are fairly solid. The overall appearance is a bit dark, but once again, this seems to be intentional.

The audio comes fully charged in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Voices and dialogue come through clearly, as does the evocative score by Harry Gregson-Williams. The surround is used effectively during the shoot-out scenes, as the sounds of guns blasting are distributed throughout the channels with appropriate intensity.

Ben Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard provide a low-key commentary track for the film, discussing just about every aspect of it, from the locations to the actors to the source novel itself. I found the discussion of the Boston neighborhoods and the people there the most interesting, and it becomes very clear how close to Affleck's heart this production was.

A pair of featurettes turns up next. "Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck" is a seven-minute look at the production, while "Capturing Authenticity: Casting Gone Baby Gone" gives us a nine-minute look at the actors. I must say that I found both of these features rather disappointing. They are fairly routine, providing interviews with cast and crew (author Dennis Lehane even appears), but they do not offer much insight. This film deserves far better than what was offered here.

These are followed by a selection of six deleted scenes lasting around 17 minutes. Most noteworthy of these are an alternate opening sequence and a slightly altered closing scene. Affleck and Stockard provide optional commentary for these as well.

With this film, Ben Affleck has certainly announced himself as a filmmaker to watch. His years in front of the camera were obviously not wasted, as he brings to "Gone Baby Gone" the skill and assuredness of a pro. In addition to making a technically competent work, Affleck has also created a haunting and deeply moving film that will leave viewers with many questions on their minds. It is the sort of film that inspires discussion long after the final credits roll, and in a year that was particularly blessed with great cinema, this film was a standout.