It’s easy enough to mock Ben Affleck after the downward trajectory into ridiculousness his career took, especially between 2002 and 2005 when he was conceptually inseparable from Jennifer Lopez and made a tremendous number of terrible, terrible movies. But I’m not going to mock him now: his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone (for which he also co-wrote the screenplay), demands all of the admiration and respect he couldn’t earn just a few years ago. Affleck could easily abandon his on-screen career in favor of behind-the-camera work, and that might not be such a loss — he was always more movie star than actor, anyway.
I’ll admit that I had doubts when I heard that Affleck had cast his little brother Casey Affleck as put-upon P.I. Patrick Kenzie — I’ve long been a fan of Dennis Lehane‘s Kenzie-Gennaro mystery novels and, like you do, had my own vision of what the characters looked like, a vision what I knew of Affleck the Younger just didn’t fit. I’m sure I’m not the only person who assumed the casting was pure nepotism. And perhaps it was — but even if so, it doesn’t matter, since Casey Affleck’s performance fits the character as if Lehane had written Patrick Kenzie with Affleck in mind from the start. Kenzie and partner (in life and in business) Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, whose character is sadly less involved here than in the books) are hired to find a missing four-year-old girl; of course, the case becomes far, far more convoluted than expected.
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
(out of a possible five)
Affleck the Elder also draws stellar performances from his supporting cast, including Broadway vet Amy Ryan (who earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress) as the perhaps-not-quite-as-anguished-as-she-
Gone Baby Gone is a mystery, technically, but almost not quite; who was responsible for the crime committed — or even which crime was committed — proves less important than what the events say about the people involved, both the victims and the investigators. The plot has all the mechanics of a whodunit, all the reverses and reveals, but those concerns are secondary.
Never, never have I so badly wished for a character not to do something which his nature insisted he must. I’m not one given to talking to characters in the movies and TV shows I watch, but I wanted to grab Patrick Kenzie and slap some sense into him: “You’re not a parent, you don’t — perhaps you can’t — understand. This situation is out of your depth. All of your moral absolutes are whispers in the wind when the well-being of a child is involved.” But I think Kenzie knows he’s stuck in a murky area ethically and his rigid divisions between Right and Wrong provide his only signposts toward right action; the movie’s heartbreaking final scene shows him that those signposts might not have been guiding him correctly after all.