“Be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove”
Real life is not known for its happy endings. Author Dennis Lehane seems to understand this fact and is not afraid to tell his stories with that mentality. The last novel of his to be given the film treatment was Mystic River. A great movie from Clint Eastwood was the result, showing the deep bonds between family and friends in Boston amidst horrifying tragedy. While the story and acting were top-notch there, something about the recent adaptation of Gone Baby Gone takes it a step further. It is my guess that the impetus for this is adapter/director Ben Affleck. While I’m sure Lehane keeps his stories seeped in Boston lifeblood, the transition to screen can’t always be exact, it takes a filmmaker from there to get it correct. As a directorial debut, you can’t ask for more from Affleck. No matter what your feelings are about his acting skills (I’m a fan, mainly due to his comedic work) you cannot deny the talent behind the camera. He brings authenticity to the relationships onscreen as well as being unafraid to show Boston as it is. The film is as much about the search for a missing girl as it is a lesson on what family means to those living in the city.
I will say that I was a bit worried by the trailer for giving too much away. We have a private detective, hired by the family of a missing girl, to help with the street aspect of the police’s case. There seems to be a lot of tension and some twists involving the mother of said child that may lean towards her being a part of the orchestration of the crime. Thankfully this is not the whole film at all. The private detectives, played by Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, are two youngish people getting in a bit over their heads. The chief of police has himself been a victim as his only child was killed and he has vowed to not let others experience that pain under his watch. So, along with the two cops in charge of the case, Ed Harris and John Ashton, the four principals attempt to find the girl by using untapped channels through the underbelly of the city. This search for the girl, however, is only the tip of the iceberg at hand. Gone Baby Gone’s story is so much more than this one case as we are soon privy to a second abduction, a group of degenerate cokeheads, a creole drug lord, and connections from the past that we as an audience can’t even begin to see until everything is allowed to play out to its startling conclusion.
For being a character-based tale, Affleck has allowed the story to hold itself up as the enthralling thriller it is. While there is a more action-oriented scene in the middle, it is the suspense of the unknowing that keeps us enraptured in the proceedings. Casey Affleck is a courageous take-no-crap from anyone hero inside a somewhat diminutive frame as compared to some of the heavies he comes across. He is a man who shows what he is made of on many occasions, including at a bar early on questioning witnesses, talking to the drug lord Cheese, and springing to action when his friends attempt a siege alone on a house later in the film. He’s the Catholic Boston boy, raised on the streets along with those who took the other road to violence and crime. With a strict moral code, established in large part by his priest growing up, he is unable to accept the skewed mentality of those around him who allow themselves to do wrong as long as it gets a wrongdoer off the streets.
Ben’s use of the camera is great. He portrays Boston by the people that inhabit it. The little touches of montages showing real citizens on their bar stools and street corners help put everything in context. Then you have the grass roots word of mouth crusades going on to express how no matter what part of society you belong to, the community takes care of its own. From the bar regular that spills what he knows about the missing girl, (putting up flyers about her as she was their unofficial mascot being that the mother frequently brought her inside), to the other that yells at him to keep his mouth shut, (its one thing to lie to the cops, but another to tell the truth to someone you know—a reason Casey’s character is enlisted to help gather intelligence), to the police officer at a funeral for a fallen cop walking up and congratulating Casey for a job well done killing a known pedophile, these people respect the protection of their own no matter what ugliness was used to get it. This is an underlying theme in Mystic River too, but something about this cast and the lead and director being from the city itself that rings so much more true. Besides that authenticity, Affleck does a nice job at adding his own flair to the proceedings and a superb eye for composition of frame and use of close-ups during character interaction. I can’t wait to see what he does next.
One must commend him also for his ability to get phenomenal performances from his cast. Many actors say that actors turned director get the most from them, and it shows here. Between this and Jesse James, it will be a crime if Casey Affleck is not recognized for his superior work this year. I can’t think of anyone who has done a better job than him. The latent bad boy hiding behind his good exterior and moral disposition comes out to great effect, helping to show the interior conflict he battles through the story. Everyone else is fantastic too, but special mention needs to be made for some. Titus Welliver, (wonderful in “Deadwood”, it’s good to see him doing films), stands out as the uncle of the missing girl hiding a few secrets himself, and the consummate professional Ed Harris bringing his A-game. Harris is a complicated man here with many hidden motivations. His role is very integral to the film and the way he can turn on the tough guy persona when necessary and the compassionate friend doing what he can to help another assuage his guilt is unmatched. The girl’s mother, played by Amy Ryan, also sticks out for her genuine performance. You’d be hard-pressed to believe that she isn’t a drug addicted drunk in real life, turning on the tears when appropriate, only to shut the faucet when life goes back to normal.
While the journey is amazing, it is the ending that brings everything together. Our lead faces a dilemma that can cost him everything he holds dear. Does he make the right decision? That’s for you as the viewer to decide. The final frame is lingered on to allow us time to wonder what would have happened if he chose the other option, but one can’t live with regret, they must do what they must do. All those involved saw something in this story and they all honored it with their best, making this my new favorite of the year, by a long shot.
Gone Baby Gone 10/10 | ★ ★ ★ ★
 Casey Affleck as Patrick in GONE BABY GONE. Photo credit: Claire Folger / Courtesy of Miramax Films.
 John Aston as Poole, Amy Ryan as Helene and Ed Harris as Bressant in GONE BABY GONE. Photo credit: Claire Folger/Courtesy of Miramax Films.