Volume 20 Issue 23 | October 19 - 25, 2007 Film

A surprising twist, for both Afflecks

Gone Baby Gone
Screenplay by Aaron Stockard and Ben Affleck
Directed by Ben Affleck
Now in theaters

By Steven Snyder

Casey Affleck has quickly, but quietly, become one of those instantly-recognized, secondary movie personalities — the kind of actor brought up at dinner parties, where film buffs can’t quite recall the name but plead with each other: “Remember the guy from that casino film?”

They would be referring, of course, to “Ocean’s Eleven,” a film which Affleck co-starred in (he was one half of the rude brother duo on the crew). Just last month, he opened in theaters across the country opposite Brad Pitt in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

Now, in “Gone Baby Gone,” Casey Affleck, in a film directed by Ben Affleck, his brother, steps up to the plate as a lead actor and hits one out of the park. Both Affleck brothers, it seems, are maturing in front of our eyes, in a film far more smartly plotted, and smartly acted, than many will be expecting.

Things start on a ho-hum note, as Patrick (Casey Affleck) is awoken by a knock on the door, and the panicked look on the face of a Bostonite who’s concerned about a lost little girl — a 4-year-old who has been abducted. He’s not a cop, Affleck says — it’s clear that he is typically charged with finding deadbeats who have skipped out on a debt — but the woman is adamant, asking both him and his live-in partner (Michelle Monaghan) to do anything they can in advancing the investigation.

Almost as a parallel to Casey Affleck’s career, Patrick seems like a man out of his league. Arriving at the crime scene, he immediately butts heads with the leading men in uniform, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, who have seen it all before, but who bear the burden of wearing the black and blue. Patrick starts digging around, in the back-alley bars and the dank saloons, asking neighbors and friends in the drug business if they’ve heard anything about this missing youngster.

Slowly, he earns the respect of the badges, and accompanies them to a supposed ransom payout. But a devastating turn brings the film to a screeching halt, the formula running out of thread.

It’s at this juncture where audiences will glance down at their watches, wondering if the movie has really arrived at its end. But instead, at the 45-minute mark, “Gone Baby Gone” veers into truly unpredictable territory. It’s here where Patrick’s intuition — not the cops’ expertise — gets the job done, and where the predictable layout of a ransom thriller is overwhelmed by a character study of one young man who suddenly finds himself in a deeper quagmire than he ever imagined.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the Academy Award-nominated “Mystic River,” “Gone Baby Gone” shares a few notable notes and harmonies with that dark and dismal work. First and foremost is a crisp, vibrant sense of Boston, of the racial and socioeconomic divisions that shape the city. But above all else, Lehane’s work exhibits a sense of acceptance that makes its surprises, both uplifting and disheartening, equally realistic. Characters do bad things in these stories — horrific things — but they also endure when all hope seems lost and reach out to others in times of need. There’s the sense of life getting on, in the heart of the dark, dark city, struggling to find its way out into the light.

So it’s to the credit of both Affleck brothers that “Gone Baby Gone” sheds the Hollywood movie formula and breaks through to a deeper film. Casey has arrived as a leading man, projecting here the triumph of a young man who’s learned how to hold his own; and Ben has proven his grit as a serious filmmaker, pushing deep into Lehane’s dark universe, exposing that this is not the story of a missing kid and a police investigation, but a struggle for the soul of a city.

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