“Murder’s a sin.”
“Depends on who you do it to.”
Rated R. Out on DVD. Directed by Ben Affleck, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan and Morgan Freeman.
Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone is about the lengths “good” people have to go to in order to stop “bad” people from doing “bad” things. While the film attempts to navigate itself into a moral gray area, the decisions the main characters have to make didn’t seem that ambiguous to me, and perhaps because of that, the film didn’t resonate very strongly. The film tries to leave the audience conflicted and divided, but it didn’t really happen for me. It does work for most of the time as an effective suspense/mystery, with a couple of good sequences, but it doesn’t add up to a lot and the flaws almost end up overwhelming the strengths.
The story revolves around a kidnapping which private detectives/lovers Patrick McKenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) have been hired by the family to essentially help out the police (Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris) with the locals. They know the area and they know the players — McKenzie went to school with the mother of the child (Amy Ryan) — so the police let them help out, but as they dig deeper into the mystery, they discover more to the story.
Director Affleck shows a lot of promise here and while the performances he coaxes are hit-or-miss, the pacing was good and the action sequences were excellent. He clearly knows the area, and as a result, the film feels very authentic and you get a great feel for the setting. These characters are the types of people you’d find in South Boston and filming on location is always a nice touch. I’ll say this — I’m more excited about his next effort as a director than as an actor.
Casey Affleck shows his range while turning in his second excellent performance of the year (following The Assassination of Jesse James) and proving that he can carry a film. Despite his babyface, he is believably tough as the streetwise Patrick while also holding down the moral center of the story. Amy Ryan of “The Wire” (Omar/Michael K. Williams also makes a brief appearance) is outstanding and was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Helene, a character so different from hers on “The Wire” that I didn’t even make the connection until the credits rolled. Harris and Freeman turn in solid, workmanlike performances, but are nothing special, and with those two you definitely expect more.
Monaghan is an unmitigated disaster as Angie, completely miscast and out of her league, bringing nothing to the table. She was fine in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Mission Impossible 3 but this is a role that just does not fit. Angie is supposed to be a tough, smart, private investigator but what we get is an annoying, weak, token wet-blanket girlfriend character who is a total liability in every scene she’s in. Monaghan has no presence and I don’t understand how she got the role given how unconvincing she is. The friend I saw the movie with couldn’t get past her performance and wrote off the movie as a whole. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s close.
That being said, Gone Baby Gone is otherwise solid until the last 15 minutes or so, when the story completely falls apart trying to twist its way towards a powerful ending that doesn’t come. Ultimately, it feels like an extended one-hour TV drama, like a Without a Trace or a Law & Order: SVU, and while that’s not bad, it’s not a must-see movie by any means.