VIDEO: The trailer for Gone Baby Gone
Films about Boston tend to be no better than their worst Boston accent. By that standard, Ben Affleck’s adaptation of local writer Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone is the best. Not a single actor is grating or embarrassing, and you can’t beat Amy Ryan’s reading of the line “It smells like cock!” for local color. Other standards — plot cohesiveness, plausibility, logical character motivation — are not strong points here. But when it comes to atmosphere, authenticity of setting, pitch-perfect (and often hilarious) dialogue, and one of the best ensemble casts of the year, this debut marks Affleck as a major directorial talent.
Gone Baby Gone | Directed by Ben Affleck | Written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane | with Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Ed Harris, John Ashton, and Titus Welliver | Miramax Pictures | 114 Minutes
Mighty Casey: The younger Affleck strikes out. By Cole Haddon.
Some of the narrative wool derives from Dennis Lehane’s overstuffed novel, which Affleck and co-screenwriter Aaron Stockard have pared down by about three subplots. Played by Ben’s brother Casey (who between this performance and that in The Assassination of Jesse James has clinched a berth in the awards derby), Patrick Kenzie, along with his live-in, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), operates a threadbare gumshoe agency in Dorchester that relies on his deep-rooted connections with local undesirables. Business picks up when they’re hired to supplement the police investigation into the media-saturated kidnapping of a little girl — hired not by the child’s hard-partying mom, Helene (Ryan, a lock on best-supporting-actress plaudits), but by her doting aunt and uncle.
The cops on the case — Detectives Bressant (Ed Harris) and Poole (John Ashton) and Chief Doyle (Morgan Freeman) — don’t appreciate the help, so Patrick doesn’t make much headway as he follows a trail of clues that include a buried bag of money, a tortured corpse, a murderous pedophile, drug deals gone bad, an obese woman with a gun, and enough secret pasts to make everyone and his or her brother a suspect. Neither does he — or Affleck — manage to resolve fundamental ambivalences about parenthood, decency, duty, and the intractability of evil.
But what’s different from Good Will Hunting, Affleck’s previous tour of this turf with fellow Oscar-winning wunderkind Matt Damon, is that here the evil is confronted. Gone Baby Gone clarifies some of the warmer and fuzzier aspects of that earlier film — which in addition to featuring the worst Boston accent in movies (from Oscar winner Robin Williams) also soft-pedaled such tourist-unfriendly Boston traits as entrenched racism and a vicious culture of crime. Mystic River and The Departed have made this Boston underworld almost chic, but Affleck brings an insider’s knowledge and empathy to its pinched and furious misery, its eloquence and squalor, embodying them in the film’s faces and voices and the acerbic wit and poetry of its words.
None of which would have meant much without Casey Affleck and his altar-boy face not quite concealing a bemused despair and melancholy, or Ryan's uncanny transformation of a monstrous mom into perhaps the film’s most sympathetic and certainly its most fascinating character. Even the fussiest native ear won’t be offended: Ben Affleck has gotten his Boston accent back.