Gone Baby Gone

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            “Gone Baby Gone” is a terrific achievement for the Affleck brothers. Ben directed the movie and co-wrote the screenplay (with old friend Aaron Stockard). Casey carries the starring role, and their hometown, Boston, is the major character. The familiarity of the brothers with each other and with South Boston is the dominant ingredient in the surprising power of the movie.

            The South Boston accents of the cast are consistent and true; the characters look carved by the grim lives that are their lot. They don’t seem to be actors but genuine residents in the bars, streets, and drug dungeons they inhabit. Violence is just beneath normalcy in their expressions, their language, and the tones in their voices. A horrific sub-culture in a city known for its refinement is brought to vivid life by skillful hands.

            So what’s going on here? A missing child, her family, cops, and a young local detective hired by the girl’s family. The detective, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), brings along his highly principled girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). Patrick can function as the connection for the missing girl’s wildly dysfunctional family to both the police and the underworld because he went to school with most of them. “Half my classmates were cops, half were degenerates.”

            In the war between drug pushers and cops that surrounds little Amanda’s family, Casey Affleck’s Patrick at first looks like a preppie dropped into the wrong neighborhood; not so. He’s the open-faced Irish Catholic kid with a motor mouth of obscenities and a self-righteous streak. He knows how to get information because he’s a product of the culture. Before long, Affleck seems not to be acting at all. He simply becomes Patrick.

            As the mother of the missing girl, Amy Ryan dives fearlessly into the role of the drug pushing, negligent mother. Screaming the film’s common language of South Boston obscenities, she is a nightmare of a mother without an ounce of guilt, a narcissist without remorse.

            Though the story could easily have become sentimental or predictable at any point, just the opposite happens. Whenever we think we have things figured out, the movie takes an unexpected turn. Every time it seems about to wind up, it continues; and yet the running time is short and the pace is quick.

            It is the South Boston Irish Catholic culture that gives rise to the moral ambiguity in the story and leads finally to a life changing choice for Patrick. The movie is so much of its time and place that the only awkward casting is that of the two big names: Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris. Certainly two of Hollywood’s finest actors, they just don’t fit in the landscape of this story. When the prize lists are drawn up at year’s end, both Casey Affleck and Amy Ryan are likely to be contenders along with brother Ben for direction and script. They reached for authenticity and caught it with power.

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