Despite the huge amount of bad turns Ben Affleck has taken in his career, I've always retained a soft spot for the guy. Maybe it's residual affection for his work in Kevin Smith's best movie, Chasing Amy (and even for the more critically derided Jersey Girl), or for his work with writing compadre, Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. It may even be for his work on Daredevil; despite it's many flaws, it remains one of my favourite comic book adaptions.
He clawed some grudging respect back in many critics eyes recently for his impressive turn as the tragic George Reeve in the excellent Hollywoodland, and now, with his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, I think he's found his way back onto the map.
Gone Baby Gone is not only a beautifully crafted piece of cinema, it's easily one of the best crime thrillers I've seen in some time. By adapting Dennis Lehane's fourth novel to feature the missing persons PI's, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Genarro, Affleck set himself a difficult task. Not only is Lehane one of the most highly regarded crime writers in the field, the last book he had adapted into a movie was Clint Eastwood's Mystic River. Huge act to follow.
Gone Baby Gone's contentious subject matter - that of child abduction -led to it's delayed release in the UK due to the previous year's media circus that involved the abduction of Madeleine MaCann, but a year after that real life storyline where motives and morals were questioned, Affleck's movie is finally to be released.
The storyline is this: When a 4-year-old girl is kidnapped right out of her bed, a close family member comes to Patrick and Angie and attempts to hire them. Patrick is young and green, but has ties to his local community; he knows the underbelly better than the cops, and quickly discovers enough for two detectives to begin to take him seriously and get involved. Events spiral quickly out of control and just as the plot seems to be reaching a logical (if bloody and painful) conclusion, the rug is pulled and reels you back in.
There's a certain sort of familiarity to the plot initially for the movie to seem little more than a gripping, well told and well acted thriller. But as the action intensifies, and characters motives come into question, Gone Baby Gone elevates to something altogther more intense, mesmirising and heartbreaking.
Affleck's direction (and script writing) is strikingly assured, like that of a long established craftsman. There's an affection for his native Boston that makes the backdrop of what is essentially a blue-collar community. The people that Kenzie encounters are all part of the tapestry of his youth; they've never moved away, they hold down thankless jobs, they drink heavily, they sell drugs, they mistrust cops. He also elicits richly textured performances from an outstanding cast: brother Casey Affleck, fresh from a career enhancing turn in The Assasination of Jesse James takes the central everyman character of Patrick Kenzie and absolutely nails it; there's also top drawer support from the always solid Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, as well as Michelle Monaghan as Kenzie's partner/girlfriend Angie, and a phemomenal performance from Amy Ryan as the crackhead mother of the abducted girl.
If all the jolts and action don't get you (but they will), then the moral question at the core of the story most certainly will. It lingers in the decisions that Kenzie has to make and then on, days after the film, asking bigger questions about culpability for society's ills.
Absolutely essential viewing. An intelligent, riveting and moving crime thriller. And yeah, he was
'da bomb in Phantoms'.
"I always believed it was the things you don't choose that makes you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family. People here take pride in these things, like it was something they'd accomplished. The bodies around their souls, the cities wrapped around those. I lived on this block my whole life; most of these people have. When your job is to find people who are missing, it helps to know where they started. I find the people who started in the cracks and then fell through. This city can be hard. When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. "You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves."