Ben Affleck has undergone quite the career reinvention.
After bombing hard with the “Bennifer” infested Gigli and vomit inducing Surviving Christmas, Affleck has somehow survived not only in tact, but invigorated: Staunch political activist; award winning actor for his role in Hollywoodland; and now, critically applauded director, who gives a surprisingly exceptionally crafted debut with Gone Baby Gone, an adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name written for the screen by Affleck and Aaron Stockhard.
A gripping crime mystery, Gone Bay Gone stars Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Patrick and Angie, two Boston private detectives who have been asked to help locate a missing 4 year old girl who was taken from her bedroom whilst her mother Helene (Amy Ryan) was out partying with her drug runner boyfriend. Delving deeper into the case, they find a dark conspiracy which will test their principles and haunt them for the rest of their days.
Affleck has assembled a great cast. His younger brother, Casey Affleck, has come into his own as a captivating lead actor who manages to get under the skin of his characters, and here it is no exception. As Patrick, Affleck skilfully expresses the nuances his character inhabits. There are glimpses of a shady past which no doubt led him in redemption to a life of good deeds as a private detective who takes pride in helping his blue collar neighbourhood.
His character also speaks of the spiritual advice given to him by his priest. One of the first lines spoken by his character is as follows: “When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to His children. ‘You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves’."
It is powerful stuff which points directly towards a strong religious undercurrent felt throughout the film. Much like Mystic River (which also based on a novel by Lehane), the Boston neighbourhood’s where these stories are told are linked by their Catholic faith, which Affleck gratefully does not exploit but subtly points to at the right moments.
Gone Baby Gone is –at its core – a morality tale about a work class, Catholic man in Boston who must make tough decisions in the presence of shady characters. “Be as serpents” indeed.
The responsibility of parenthood is also looked at. Amy Ryan gives a sympathetic portrayal of a disgusting single mother who – although undeserving of a child – still is entitled to the benefit of a second chance. The questions asked concerning her character, her role as a mother, and the consequences of her irresponsible actions should and will create debate.
Ed Harris and the underused John Ashton are great as police detectives, and Morgan Freeman shines in one of his more interesting roles in years.
John Toll provides strong cinematography, and the masterful editing from William Goldenberg is excellent.
The city of Boston – which seems to be Hollywood’s new favourite stomping ground for crime flicks with last years The Departed and the before mentioned Mystic River– is itself an essential and important character in the movie.
A haunting tale that provides no easy answers, Gone Baby Gone is a pleasant surprise and one of the best films of the year.