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GONE BABY GONE(director/writer: Ben Affleck; screenwriter: Aaron Stockard/based on the novel by Dennis Lehane; cinematographer: John Toll; editor: William Goldenberg; music: Harry Gregson-Williams; cast: Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie), Michelle Monaghan (Angie Gennaro), Morgan Freeman (Jack Doyle), Ed Harris (Detective Remy Bressant), John Ashton (Nick Poole), Amy Ryan (Helene McCready), Amy Madigan (Beatrice McCready), Titus Welliver (Lionel McCready), Madeline O’Brien (Amanda McCready), Edi Gathegi (Cheese), Matthew Maher (Corwin Earle), Trudi Goodman (Roberta Trett), Mark Margolis (Leon Trett), Jill Quigg (Dottie), Slaine (Bubba, drug dealer), William Lee (Big Dave), Jay Giannone (Steve), Sean Malone (“Skinny Ray” Likanski), Michael Kenneth Williams (Capt. Devin); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Ben Affleck/Alan Ladd Jr./Sean Bailey/Danton Rissner; Miramax; 2007)
Ben Affleck’s credible but flawed directorial debut is based on a grim Beantown thriller from the 1998 novel by Dennis Lehane of Mystic River fame.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Ben Affleck’s credible but flawed directorial debut is based on a grim Beantown thriller from the 1998 novel by Dennis Lehane of Mystic River fame, and is co-scripted by him and Aaron Stockard. Ben’s baby-faced and gravel-voiced kid brother Casey, the question of nepotism aside, is worthy of being cast in the lead as he plays his role with grit and his performance always feels sincere; he’s richly supported by an able ensemble cast, with those unknowns who are part of the local color by far putting out a more affecting performance than veteran actors Morgan Freeman, seemingly going through the motions, and a wigged-out hammy performance by Ed Harris.

Clean-cut and youthful looking South Boston private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), from the run-down working-class Dorchester district, is the two-bit gumshoe surviving the day by taking on small-time cases of tracking down missing person deadbeats with his sweet live-in girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The plot centers on the disappearance of the four-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien) for the last three days, and her distraught but unfit for parenting vile single mother Helene McCready (Amy Ryan). Television news crews flood the neighborhood and put pressure on the cops to act. When the cops have no luck tracking her down, the girl’s Uncle Titus Welliver (Lionel McCready), Helene’s brother, and her concerned Aunt Beatrice McCready (Amy Madigan, real-life wife of Ed Harris), a married couple from the area, hire the private detective duo to assist the police, mainly because they are familiar with the tight-knit neighborhood and might provide leads the police are unable to get. Though Angie objects because she doesn’t feel prepared to take on such a heavy case that has such unpleasant conniptions to it, she reluctantly goes along to see if she can help the toddler figuring her involvement can’t do any harm.

Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), a pair of hardened veterans, reluctantly share their leads in the case with the inexperienced sleuths when ordered to do so by their chief, Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). He’s the head of the police department’s Crimes Against Children unit, whose own child was a victim of kidnappers and was never found alive. Soon Kenzie, through his neighborhood connections, comes into contact with a junkie named Steve, someone he knew from the past, and he has a case of verbal diarrhea in the seedy bar where the coke head Helene hung out and spills the beans about a link between the missing child, Helene’s heavy substance-abuse, her being a drug mule, a promiscuous and negligent single mother, and with some further info the kidnapping points to a missing drug shipment. It leads the concerned private dick down dark alleys following false leads and dead ends, as he puts himself in danger beyond his job requirements in a relentless pursuit of tracking down leads among some pretty repulsive and dangerous scumbags. He has to cross paths with Cheese, a vicious Haitian crime lord, pedophiles, crack addicts, an involved player in the kidnapping who is found in Chelsea as a bloodied corpse tortured to death and corrupt cops. After much blood is spilled and more twists to the story than the MTA, it comes up with a mind-blowing conclusion that is so ludicrous it nearly tears apart the good work done in establishing a gritty scenario of a shell-shocked neighborhood that looks like it’s reeling in a war-zone and a heart-breaking realistic everyday news story about an innocent child and an irresponsible lowlife mother.

It grotesquely shows how vigilante justice handles a pedophile problem, how cops can’t be trusted, how clammed-up and defensive a bad neighborhood can become, how goons can be scary when confronted in a bar meant only for their sort, a deadly botched money exchange for the girl, and it tops it all off with a startling development, that won’t be disclosed in this review, that never works as even remotely believable on the screen as it might have on the written page. It raises disturbing morally ambiguous questions it pretends to be neutral about but sets up the ethical argument in such a contrived way you can only take to mean that breaking the rules is the best answer for all parties concerned.

The green director, raised in Cambridge, Mass., might know his way around such a turbulent lower-class neighborhood and he truly does an admirable job at pointing his camera in the right spots to get the raw look at the underbelly of a big city and its chilling freakish display of sordid characters who inhabit it, but when it gets loaded down with contrivances and an unwarranted sudden character reversal it loses dramatic creds and becomes too far-fetched to take that seriously (something it desperately wants). What remains is a powerful story that’s more than slightly compromised but still potent enough to raise eyebrows and make us wonder what can be done about the frightening stat we know from the news that in America there are a few thousand children reported missing on any given day.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”