As I watched Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, two thoughts crossed my mind repeatedly: crime stories set in Boston are far nastier and grittier than those set anywhere else – and Thelonious Monk was right!
When a couple of neophytes from Boston co-wrote and acted in a little indie flick called Good Will Hunting, they won an Oscar® for their screenplay and were hailed as geniuses. Afterward, Ben Affleck had some immediate success and Matt Damon didn’t. Then, in a twist that seems like a movie script, Affleck’s good fortunes waned and Damon became the go to guy for a major franchise and showed a remarkable range in other, smaller films. After once again serving notice that he really could act [Hollywoodland], Affleck has returned to the one what brung him – writing – and taken on a new challenge in directing.
Gone Baby Gone is a strange beast for a crime story. Morality and immorality play out in unique ways; what’s legal may not be right, while what’s illegal might be… The film is based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. I haven’t read the novel, but I mention it in case you have read and enjoyed it, and are worried about whether it is adapted well.
The plot revolves around the kidnapping of four-year old Amanda McCready while her mother was allegedly visiting a neighbour across the street. The mother, Helene [Amy Ryan] is an addict [booze, drugs, whatever…] and it’s her sister-in-law, Bea [Amy Madigan] who raises Cain and brings in the police and the news media. It’s also Bea who brings in private eye team of Patrick Kenzie [Casey Affleck] and Angie Gennaro [Michelle Monaghan] – rightly figuring that there are those in neighbourhood who won’t talk to the police but might talk to Patrick and Angie.
The film is rife with intriguing and unique characters – Helene’s angry and mouthy friend Dottie [Jill Queeg], drug dealer and information vendor Bubba [Boston rapper Slaine] and half a dozen others who were cast from local non-actors – who give the film an authenticity you don’t usually see. It helps that the director and his lead are Boston natives, as well. Gone Baby gone moves like a Bostonian, looks like a Bostonian and sounds like a Bostonian – though Morgan Freeman cop, Captain Jack Doyle, does seem a bit out of place [but given the directions the plot takes, that could be deliberate].
Which brings us to Thelonious Monk who was not, as far as I know, a Bostonian – but developed a jazz piano style that was unique for a number of reasons, not the least of which was encapsulated in one of his most famous tunes, Wrong Is Right. Monk, more than most jazz players, had an understanding of the importance of silences as well as the ability to find notes that were, technically, completely wrong by any logical measure, but when combined with his use of space worked to create a sound that was right.
Affleck’s film almost feels like that Monk piece. There are decisions that make no sense in most senses; honorable actions [noble, even] that we can see are simply wrong – you will know them when you see them. Which begs the question, if you do the right thing for all the right reasons, how can the result be wrong? Which, of course, in this instance, it is.
Once again we’ve got a film that moves rather deliberately, for the most part – though when there are bursts of action, they really crank up the adrenaline. Affleck the Elder does an extremely good job of building character, presenting clues [which you will not recognize as such, though they’re in plain sight] and choreographing every aspect of the action. He also gets some stunning performances out of people who have never acted before.
Some critics may express surprise that Casey Affleck gives such a strong performance, but really, when you watch his earlier work [especially his comedic bits in the Ocean’s movies and completely unaffected dramatic turn as Robert Ford in the long-winded title that stars Brad Pitt] he seems completely natural and is totally believable.
Here, he’s letter perfect as the baby-faced P.I. who knows people and isn’t afraid to bust a head if he has to. He has great chemistry with Michelle Monaghan, whose Angie is his partner both at work and at home. She gives a nicely modulated performance that serves to accentuate all his best qualities. It’s important to note that he takes the case because she becomes emotionally involved – especially when you see what effects the case has on them.
If Ben Affleck can follow Gone Baby Gone with another film of equal substance, he may well hear the word genius being used in reference to him again, soon.
Final Grade: A
Eclipse Review Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted on 10/20/07