Gone Baby Gone

December, 2007, Mystery

Directed by:Ben Affleck

Starring:Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, and John Ashton

Like many a crime novelist before him, Dennis Lehane labored for more than a decade before publishing his breakout bestseller Mystic River, which Clint Eastwood made into a commercially successful film in 2003. That same year marked the arrival of the second thriller Lehane penned that featured Patrick Kenzie & Angela Gennaro, a pair of private eyes who share both bed and office in pursuit of bad guys in the South Boston locales for which Lehane later become famous. The debut outing of this pair, A Drink Before Dying came out in 1996; seven years later, they reappeared in the book which forms the basis of this movie. 

Unfortunately, Kenzie and Gennaro were unlikely heroes initially and time hasn’t enhanced their appeal, but first-time director Ben Affleck, (who co-wrote this script) manages to capture Beantown’s seedier side with authentic locales, a flock of appropriately scurrilous-looking supporting players and robustly foul dialogue that often gets straight to the jugular. Add a knock-out performance by Amy Ryan, (much in television & briefly in this fall’s Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead) as a slatternly-inclined single mom and Affleck can be said to have made a quite decent directorial debut. May this handsome and obviously multi-talented young actor with a number of numbingly dismal performances to his credit have a better career with script and camera than he’s enjoyed by donning greasepaint…

Affleck’s younger brother Casey, (The Assassination of Jesse James) plays Kenzie to Michelle Monaghan’s Gennaro, neither managing to generate a believable sense of the characters they’re portraying. (It doesn’t help that there’s zero romantic chemistry between them either.) When hired by a distraught aunt to find an abducted little girl who’s mother (played by Ryan) has little interest in her and runs with the neighborhood’s drug dealers, the duo must endure the condescending treatment of the police, (Morgan Freeman & Ed Harris) and overcome a plot of such astounding improbability it beggars the imagination. 

But those who persevere will be treated to richly atmospheric details of blue-collar Boston, where Irish accents add an extra layer of menace to  barroom brawls and the quiet desperation of those on the margins of society are convincingly presented in slack expressions perched atop torsos in  permanent state of slouch.

Affleck the director lays out his plot more clearly than Affleck the screenwriter, but atmosphere’s king here and there’s no denying the gritty look and feel of this material. Ryan’s defiantly degenerate mother, obscenely gorging on the attention her missing daughter has attracted may just be one of the most perfectly detestable women on screen this decade and her cheeky insouciance towards Kenzie in the film’s final scene stands in authentic sharp contrast to the fuzzy moralizing that surrounds it.

The verdict? This one may not be worth the time and expense of seeing on the big screen, but it’ll make a worthy guilty-pleasure evening hen it comes out on DVD next spring.  

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