Mark Reviews Movies


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ben Affleck

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, Slaine

MPAA Rating: R (for violence, drug content and pervasive language)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 10/19/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Having never read a word of his writing, I'm at once uniformed but still entitled to comment on the problems with author Dennis Lehane's work as they appear in the film adaptations of his novels: Mystic River and now Gone Baby Gone. His stories are mysteries at heart, the details of which are revealed late in the game and shift our perception of everything that has come before it enough to lessen whatever story elements Lehane has taken the time to set up. The characters are less flesh-and-blood people than agents of the convoluted setup, and whose depth is limited to their reactions to the plot. Whatever thematic intentions Lehane has are only offered after we're walloped with double-crosses and changes in our perspectives on the characters. Mystic River was buried by these problems, but Gone Baby Gone, while containing the same flaws, works. The third act is a labyrinth of past transgressions coming to light and shady character motivations, but co-writer/director Ben Affleck, in his directorial debut, somehow manages to let the heart of Lehane's theme rise out of the murky plotting and allows the moral ambiguity of its characters and scenario to have an impact.

"I always thought that it's the things you don't choose that make you who you are," says Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a private investigator who specializes in missing persons, in an opening narration. Things like your neighborhood, he points out, and his is the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, where he lives with his business associate and girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). A four-year-old girl has gone missing, and the police captain in charge of child abductions Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) is adamant to find her. The girl's mother Helene (Amy Ryan) makes a plea to who took her child, while her brother Lionel (Titus Welliver) and his wife Bea (Amy Madigan) go against the police and Helene's wishes and consult with Kenzie and Gennaro about opening up an outside investigation. At first, the partners are leery about taking the case, but after talking to the child's mother, they decide to. Doyle is doubtful about the young team's abilities, and his first concern is that they don't make a bad situation worse. The two detectives on the case Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) reluctantly play along as well, but information Kenzie got off the street hints that Helene might not be as innocent as she appears on television.

Kenzie's special skill as a private investigator is his ability to communicate with those who might not talk to the cops. He knows the ins and outs of local watering holes, one of which sets the scene for a tense conflict between him and the locals, who aren't appreciative of his attempts to garner information, and is fueled more by class distinctions than Kenzie's role as a detective. He has an acquaintance named Bubba (Slaine) who knows a lot about the seedy underbelly of the neighborhood because he's a part of it himself. Doyle, Bressant, and Poole don't trust him not to mess up their investigation and are convinced he's just a kid (Gennaro defends her man: "He's older than he looks."). By being an insider, Kenzie has set himself up as an outsider, both to those he can receive help and to those he can give it. It's an intriguing premise for the character and enough to keep the familiar procedural points early on in the story involving. The story of Helene's daughter's disappearance builds to a dreadful conclusion—one Doyle constantly hints at repeatedly but fears (he lost a young daughter who was later found murdered)—but the story has really just begun.

A similar situation occurs again in the neighborhood, and this time, Kenzie's contacts are more helpful. Kenzie is forced to make a split-second decision to end the whole affair immediately or let it drag out. Here's where the characters' moral ambivalence comes into play, and it leads to a discussion between Kenzie and Bressant about right and wrong, whether ends justify means, etc. It's solid writing here by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard that introduces a moral quandary that still reveals character. Things start to get messy afterward, though, and here's where the problems with Lehane's story structure become apparent. The past comes back, and there's a series of flashbacks that slowly reveal the initial mystery. There are at least three different major twists that make us question who did what, why, and what that actually means to that individual, and each new one changes those dynamics just as quickly as the previous one. The dragging, muddled revelation of truth threatens to put a damper on the whole story. Then yet another moral dilemma emerges, and once again, it plays directly to the characters, juxtaposing Kenzie's opening narration with a choice that really does define him.

Is that choice right or wrong? It's right to him, just as what the other characters have chosen is right to them. Gone Baby Gone takes the problem one step further and shows that making a choice is only the first step. Then there's living with it, taking responsibility for the consequences, and perhaps paving the way to make the best of it.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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