Film: Gone, Baby, Gone
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan
Runtime: 114 mins
Rating: * * * * *
Don’t let your preconceptions of Ben Affleck frighten you of; over the last seven years, the quality (but not quantity) of Affleck’s work has plummeted: a cringe-worthy turn in Pearl Harbour and an all-time low in the notoriously bad Gigli. It’s safe to say Affleck has done a jolly good job in cementing his reputation as an appalling actor.
This time at the helm, Affleck has crafted an intriguing mystery-thriller; a neo-noir story offering much more than just suspense and the formulaic whodunnit clichés. Set in the crumbling underbelly of South Boston, Gone Baby Gone tells the story of two private detectives Patrick Kenzie (the superb Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend Angie (Monaghan), who are hired to investigate a four-year-old girl’s disappearance.
The usual media circus surrounds the case as desperate cops hopelessly scrabble around for evidence, while Kenzie and Angie pick up small tit-bits, mostly through Kenzie’s old connections with Dorchester’s criminal underworld. As the story progresses it becomes clear that no one in the neighbourhood of Dorchester is above suspicion.
But this film is less about child-abduction than it is about the deterioration of a neighbourhood, and the imprint left on its inhabitants. As Patrick investigates the strange disappearance through old acquaintances, we’re brutally dragged into a neighbourhood torn apart by drugs, violence and depravity. Affleck’s camera sweeps through dark, shadowy houses and dingy streets. The camera depicts a place devoid of warmth or conceivable refuge. It is this sense of place, and the portrayal of residents squirming within, that sets Gone, Baby, Gone apart from the long humdrum line of crime-thrillers.
The tale’s twists and turns alone are enough to captivate. Red herrings come and go, and the protagonists are forced to make equivocal moral decisions. It’s ultimately these decisions that make this such a thought provoking film. The director gives us a lot to chew on – all of the character’s make questionable choices regarding justice, punishment and vengeance – and the film ultimately throws up the question: do certain circumstances warrant defiance of the law?
The characters’ grey moral choices are applauded and abhorred in equal measure. The tumultuous and conflicted cop, played with blistering intensity by Ed Harris, who swears by a means to an end, Angie who’s sickened by Helene’s parenting, and then Patrick himself, virtuously intent on sticking to the rules. There are no black and white answers to the moral questions posed, and Affleck wisely leaves the final moral decisions up to the audience.
Despite a few improbable scenarios and uneasy subject matter, Affleck’s directorial debut presents a lifelike, gritty and raw meditation on morality, with a brilliantly subdued turn from his baby-faced brother in the lead. Here’s to keeping Ben firmly behind the camera and Casey in front.