After a long streak of acting in turkeys, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” ought to get most of his critics to hold their tongues.
Admittedly, “Hollywoodland,” a murder mystery released last year in which Affleck played TV’s Superman, George Reeves, was pretty good. Still, even though he played the most famous character, he was part of an ensemble cast and was technically only seen in flashbacks. Besides, not many people saw that small movie, so that makes it kind of hard to forget about “Jersey Girl” or “Gigli.”
No matter. Handing over the acting duties to his very talented younger brother, Casey Affleck, as well as pros like Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, the elder Affleck turns in a mystery/thriller that should make far more experienced directors envious. It doesn’t hurt that the screenplay, co-written by Affleck (don’t forget, he won an Oscar for writing “Good Will Hunting” with his buddy, Matt Damon) and Aaron Stockard, is based on a Denis Lehane novel. The last movie based on one of Lehane’s books was Clint Eastwood’s excellent “Mystic River” in 2003. Like that movie, “Gone” boasts a riveting mystery plot with plenty of twists and turns, a collection of mesmerizing performances and a gritty Boston setting.
The less you know about the movie’s plot going in the better, but I’ll try to give a brief outline. Three-year-old Amanda McCready is missing and it’s all over the news. After three days, her frustrated and impatient aunt comes to Patrick Kenzie (Affleck), a private detective, in order to supplement the investigation. Although the Boston police have to cooperate with Patrick, Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), the head of the children’s investigation unit, tell him it’s practically hopeless at this stage. Almost every abducted child that is returned to his or her family is found within the first 24 hours and already been three days, he says.
Although it might seem like Patrick and his partner/girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan) might be in over their heads, Patrick grew up here and knows his way around the neighborhood. He thinks he can get people to talk to him who might not be willing to talk to the police. Still, he has to tolerate a lot during his search. He looks so young that Detective Remy Bressant (Harris, who deserves another Oscar nod for this) tells him to go back to reading Harry Potter. Amanda’s mother, Helene (Amy Ryan) is not much help, either. On the surface, she doesn’t seem to care whether Amanda is found or not and is not always as forthcoming about her junkie past (and present) and her acquaintances who could have possibly kidnapped Amanda.
Ryan is outstanding in the role. She plays the type of lowlife most of us have met at some point. Just the real people she represents, you can’t help but like her just a little (for some people, it will probably be very little) despite all her ugly qualities. After a breakdown, we also realize that she cares far more about her daughter than she lets on at first. I would have sworn that Ryan was a lock for an Oscar nod if she had more screen time. Then again, most of the reviews I’ve read specifically mention her and she definitely sticks in your head after the film is over, so who knows?
I won’t say any more about the twists and turns of the plot or which characters to keep an eye on because I don’t want to spoil it. I will say, though, that it is the kind of movie that seems to be ending about halfway through, so you just know there’s a lot of unexpected things to be unearthed. Casey Affleck is outstanding, as is the rest of the cast. Don’t miss it.
“Gone Baby Gone” is rated R: No one admitted without a parent or guardian.