It's been a busy weekend of partying and football games, but I managed to cap it off with a visit to my local movie theater for a viewing of Ben Affleck's directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, a relatively powerful and convincingly engaging drama-thriller that stars his younger brother Casey.
Going into the theater, I had no clue what the movie was about, a rare treat for someone who usually hears about movies long before they arrive on the big screen. As it turns out, the movie is about the disappearance of a little girl, presumably a result of a kidnapping. While the police respond in full, the aunt of the little girl hires a private detective (Affleck) and his partner/girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) to get to the people who won't talk to the cops. The P.I. immediately uncovers something along a completely different angle than the cops, and what proceeds is a twisty-turvy drama that keeps you guessing.
Affleck has really made the directorial debut most first-time directors can only dream of. Gone Baby Gone is simple yet visually powerful, and he keeps the film well-paced and intriguing 98% of the time. There are a few minor lulls throughout, but for the most part he keeps you on the edge of your seat for one reason or another. Amazingly, the film has everything from detective investigations to shootouts to murders and more, yet the ending - where there isn't any action at all - is one of the more suspenseful parts of the movie. It is here that Affleck takes his film beyond a standard private detective flick (of course, nothing wrong with just that) and makes something a little more meaningful, while still carefully crafting the sequence to keep you guessing.
And that's what he does throughout the whole picture. Gone Baby Gone is both conventional and unconventionial at the same time. Those looking for nothing more than a movie about a quick-talking private investigator will get a kick out of the dialogue and Casey Affleck's performance, but things don't stop there. At one point the movie reaches what seems to be an ending point, but then, if you glance at your watch, you realize the story's only halfway through. As it turns out, Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard have plenty of surprises up their sleeves, but the surprises are hard to guess and sometimes subtle in delivery. Just when you think everything's wrapped up, Casey's character manages to unravel things even more. Gone Baby Gone is a refreshing thriller, one that defies the rules repeatedly.
Unfortunately, my roommate found the story somewhat contrived, but since he's not writing this review, we can just ignore his opinion (yes, I know you're going to read this).
The directing and writing are great, but the performances are equally good. Morgan Freeman is good but nothing memorable, but Casey Affleck and Ed Harris deliver top notch performances. Affleck can never say that his older brother never did anything for him, as this picture will certainly cement Casey as a leading man. Though he looks young (this is commented on many times in the movie, perhaps an inside joke), Casey's quick-talking, take-no-shit-attitude and never-stand-down approach lights up the screen. Harris, in a supporting role, is also at his finest and delivers a surprisingly complicated character from what at first glance appears to be just a generic police officer billing.
Going back to the "contrived" comment earlier, it does feel like the movie tries a bit hard to make us feel conflicted about the result of the story. While it does force it down our throats a bit, I do have to say it worked - you don't know what decision Casey is going to make, and when he does, you don't know if he made the right one.
All in all, Gone Baby Gone has only a few minor flaws, and otherwise the picture is a remarkably entertaining, captivating and well written picture. Despite what you may think of Ben Affleck's acting, he has certainly shown that his behind-the-camera work offers a promising career.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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