The Reeler


October 18, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

Affleck's debut a twisted love letter to Boston's roughest but a just plain twisted narrative

I hated Mystic River. I loved Chinatown. And while Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck's directorial debut, will inevitably be compared to both -- River for its shared Boston setting, themes and source novelist Dennis Lehane; Chinatown for the sprawling, urban underbelly structure and rapidly disillusioned, ineffective private eye protagonist -- it deserves neither comparison. It's not nearly as bad as Clint Eastwood's turgid, bathos-belching melodrama, and it shouldn't even really be mentioned in the same breath as Polanski's masterpiece.

What Gone Baby Gone is is an intermittently competent urban detective thriller with some good performances and a startlingly authentic look at a side of Boston rarely if ever seen on screen. Affleck reportedly took the same approach that David Simon used with HBO series The Wire in casting extras and some peripheral characters, picking out locals who wouldn't have to fake their Southie accents, trashy clothes, fuck-you poses and beaten down faces. Indeed, a couple of Wire regulars appear in Gone Baby Gone (Omar as a cop! Genius!), and that show's idea that the real cops -- the best cops -- spend part of every day walking their Baltimore beat, building relationships, is also part of what makes local boy Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) an effective private detective in the tightly knit enclaves of Boston.

Patrick, a self-styled gumshoe who favors trainers and trackies over fedoras and trench coats, works with his girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to solve small-time problems in and around Dorchester, tapping the contacts he has built up over a lifetime of walking his own neighborhood beat. When a little girl named Amanda goes missing, the duo are contacted by girl's aunt and uncle (Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver) to conduct a separate investigation; three days and no results in, their faith in the police has been shaken. Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman, milking those freckles for every bit o' Irish they've got), the captain of the Crimes Against Children department, is convinced to let the shaggy youngsters hop onto the investigation his team is conducting, led by a toughie veteran named Remy Bressant (Ed Harris in a goatee and shrieking, Max Headroom-esque brush-cut).

The most malformed puzzle piece in Amanda's disappearance is her mother Helene (Amy Ryan), a third-degree burnout with a bad reputation, foul mouth and the maternal instincts of a black adder breaking a six-month fast. Ryan really goes for it as the wretched, white-trash Helene, sometimes a little too far; her "shocking" behavior quickly loses its WTF impact and runs into mere shock-value behavior. The Boston flavor Affleck captures as he follows Patrick into and out of various class and cultural rabbit holes on his quest for clues is as pungent as a skanky PBR; the caustic, soul-deadening "who do you think you are" syndrome that is Ireland's wonderful gift to all of its concentrated settlements is in full effect as Patrick strives not just to solve the case but in some way to make a name for himself. Angie seems to function as more of an inconvenient shadow than a partner, useful only to instigate the odd bar fight and provide a convenient moral counterpoint in the form of an ultimatum.

As a thriller/procedural Gone Baby Gone's predominant tone is lethargic, never clicking into the register Affleck seems to be going for -- that of a talky, tense, intricately woven urban opera of greed (both emotional and monetary), ambition and ethical relativism. The endless interrogation scenes begin to fall flat early on, and the Zodiac-esque dead ends Patrick hits several times become small, momentum-sapping films of their own before declaring themselves DOA. Many plot threads are left dangling for entire reels before being noticed anew, and when logic begins failing the narrative in a world constructed so vigilantly around aesthetic authenticity, the intuitive disconnect becomes too distracting not to hold against the director.

Affleck, who co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron Stockard, seems overly attached to much of his freighted, ponderous dialogue, particularly during Patrick's ultimate confrontations with both Doyle and Bressant. Who can blame him, though, for wanting to give his little brother a big, ball-busting scene with Morgan Freeman, attempting to take this unfocused film over the top with a soppy soliloquy on family, destiny, playing God (i.e. playing possum with the law) in service of a greater good? I can, but then I hated Mystic River.

Advertise on The Reeler

Comments (6)

Thanks Michelle! I am from Boston, went to the premiere, and thought I must have been missing something when everyone was clapping! Great performances from Harris and Affleck...but it lacked everything else...Disappointed

My daughter and I went to see Gone Baby Gone last night and boy I wish we could have our money back. I had read some fairly decent reviews of the movie, but after seeing it, I think the reviewers must have been in awe with Ben Affleck or something to write such favorable comments. It was awful! It was like watching "a very bad" cop TV show from the 1970s. I think a lot of it had to do that the script was not well-written and the characters reading these fake lines (real people don't talk that way) seemed over the top and laughable. I actually felt sorry for Ed Harris reading those lines with the mask on in the bar and Morgan Freeman having to say the "f'ing" word in the line where it didn't belong. My daughter and I find ourselves laughing throughout, it was that bad. Hopefully, the word will get out on this movie...not to go see it. I'm all for giving kudos to Ben Affleck or any other first time director when it is deserved, but it surely is not for Gone Baby Gone.

Jesus Christ, do you fuckers like ANYTHING?

The picture fell apart when the "drowned" child;s body could not be found in the water. Massachuset's
police are not that dumb.

We have been having a discussion since seeing this movie and were wondering if you could help? When Patrick is sitting on the couch w/Amanda-what is her response to him when he asks what her dolls name is?

She says "Annabelle".

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Search The Reeler
Join the Mailing List

RSS Feed


Send a Tip