The story begins with the disappearance of a young girl (Madeline O’Brien) from her home. Two private investigators, Patrick Kezie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), are hired by the girl’s aunt (Amy Madigan) and her husband (Titus Welliver) to find her.
Ben Affleck, who does double duty here by co-writing the film, his first since Good Will Hunting (he adapted the tale from Dennis Lehane‘s novel), and directing his first feature, produces a pretty good flick. Centered around the poorer section of Boston each character feels real. It may not be a pretty view of America, but, sadly, it’s a far more realistic one than most of us are willing to admit.
For the first hour the film slowly unfolds as the investigation by John Ashton (Sgt. Taggart!!) and Ed Harris and led by Morgan Freeman uncovers only dead ends and false leads. The case is complicated by the mother’s (Amy Ryan) drug addiction, her recent decisions, and the people surrounding her that may have a reason to hurt her, or possibly her child.
The film starts out as a character study as each person, from Patrick and Angie, to the cops, to the mother, to the people they talk to, as each reacts differently, and genuinely, to the situation. The film uncovers sad and brutal truths that, if not for the circumstances, would most likely be better off buried. For an hour Ben Affleck weaves a mesmerizing tale with little violence or action but filled with tension and emotion.
And the the film takes a sharp left turn. Out of nowhere the film begins a series of inexplicable plot twists (are we sure this wasn’t based on a James Patterson book?), one on top of another which left my head spinning. When the film dealt with character and consequences it made for stark drama, but when it takes a back seat to plot, when the story becomes more important than the characters’ reaction to it, something is lost. The film does manage to right itself ending back where it began - centered on hard choices and their consequences. I just wished it wouldn’t have taken that unscheduled 30 minute detour to crazywackofuntown in the middle. If the film would have simply ended before beginning this unscheduled roller coaster ride there’s a strong possibility it would have shown up on my list of top films of the year. Too bad it didn’t know when to quit, or when to trust the characters and story without relying on overused twists and gimmicks.
Great beginning, average middle, and pretty strong ending, that is how I would describe Gone Baby Gone. When it’s all said and done it’s not the great film it was during the first hour but it is a pretty good film, even given its odd and unnecessary shift in focus, and is a strong entry for any first time director. I’d say you might have found a new niche Mr. Affleck.