Baby Come Back
Gone Baby Gone is directed by Ben Affleck, in his feature-length directorial debut. Affleck also served as a screenwriter along with Aaron Stockard. The film is based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, and Amy Ryan.
The early 2000's was not a very kind period to Mr. Ben Affleck, the actor. Starring in the likes of Pearl Harbor, Daredevil, and, of course, the stinker that was Gigli, it would have seemed that Affleck's acting career was in the midst of a downward spiral from which no one would have imagined him recovering from. Spoiler alert: Affleck was able to bounce back, but we're not here to talk about that. Gone Baby Gone was Ben Affleck's first time in the director chair, which would seem like the kind of change-up he needed in 2007 when his acting services were not exactly in high demand.
Talking about Ben Affleck the actor is one thing, but Ben Affleck the director is an entirely different story. Gone Baby Gone is early and undeniable proof that Affleck has the chops of a successful director, shaping up as a mystery drama that goes a lot deeper than one could initially imagine. It's not entirely flawless, but it definitely sticks with you long after it's over. So while we, unfortunately, can not excuse Affleck completely for crap like Gigli, his more successful works like Gone Baby Gone are able to at least neuter whatever heated anger we may have towards him.
The plot of Gone Baby Gone centers on the disappearance of a young Boston girl named Amanda McCready, who was last seen with her favorite doll, "Mirabelle". Amanda's mother, Helen (Amy Ryan), makes a plea on television for her daughter's return. Meanwhile, private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), are contacted and hired by Amanda's aunt, Beatrice (Amy Madigan), to help find the missing girl. Patrick has connections within Boston crime, and he uses them to further his investigation. Patrick and Angie are soon joined in their search by police detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton). The four discover that Helene had involvement with a drug lord and that she was involved with the theft of $130,000 in cash, and as the mystery continues to unfold, Patrick and Angie's relationship is threatened.
The first hour of Gone Baby Gone didn't exactly have me feeling ecstatic, and it had me worried that the movie was going to end up being little more than a serviceable mystery thriller. The specific details of the mystery start to stack up with increasing complexity, the clarity of who is who growing more blurred by the minute. And then came a couple of twists in the second hour, which almost miraculously didn't make the film even more confusing as it already seemed to be. But then came the final twenty or so minutes, in which everything is put into perspective, and I found myself going almost head over heels about the movie. As strange as it sounds, I'd recommend the movie almost solely for its final twenty minutes, even if that means the first ninety minutes range from decent to quite good.
- Why exactly is the movie so good in its final twenty minutes? We learn everything there is to know about our characters, and, without giving away specifics, Patrick finds himself having to make a decision that he knows will have dire consequences. Once you see exactly what those consequences are, the movie opens itself up for hot debate about if the decision was the right one, and that's part of why I love those final twenty minutes so much. The movie leaves you with no easy answers, and Ben Affleck couldn't have handled it any better.
- With the movie being alright in its first hour, then good, and then splendid in its final twenty minutes, that is to say that Gone Baby Gone suffers from being uneven. The first hour is the kind of product that a raw, insecure, first-time director would churn out, not being as absorbing as the first hour of any good mystery should be. A lot of the first hour is standard detective work, which is understandable. The problem is is that there isn't much that happens that would pique your interest. But then comes the second hour, and it seems as if halfway through shooting, someone gave Ben Affleck a directing pep talk. The movie is much better with pulling you in during the second half when the investigation really heats up, and delivers a payoff that would have you forgiving any boredom you might have been feeling early on.
I don't want to say that I felt like I was watching two different movies while watching Gone Baby Gone, but the difference between hour one and hour two is pretty close to the difference between night and day. Hour one isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination; it's mostly a first half that functions the way the first half would function of any other average-at-best mystery: set up the mystery, watch the detective(s) go to work, and provide details that likely will confuse the viewer because those details are all over the place. Hour two, on the other hand, finds a way to put everything together and leave you wondering about the way the movie ends long after the credits roll.
To me, the main thing worth discussing about Gone Baby Gone is not the way the mystery is solved, but what the disappearance of Amanda McCready means for the characters involved. Without giving too much away, the mystery ends up being much more than a case of a little girl being kidnapped by someone who hopes to get a hefty ransom payment. The investigation changes many character's lives, especially Patrick. If those changes are for better or worse, that's up to you to decide. And if you can get your audience talking long after the movie ends, you know you've done something right. Ben Affleck has taken Dennis Lehane's novel and crafted it into an uneven, but still highly memorable mystery film that proves that Affleck has earned his right as a director. There's great work from the cast, and I can only think more highly of the film the more I talk about it.
Recommend? Yes, mostly for the film's final twenty or so minutes (it's worth it, I promise)
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