“And the Oscar goes to … Ben Affleck?”
p. I kid you not. For his latest project, “Gone Baby Gone,” oft-scorned actor Ben Affleck (“Gigli”) has stepped behind the p. camera and has proven that he has quite the flair for directing.
In fact, this film could very well be his finest work since teaming up with Matt Damon to write “Good Will Hunting” 10 years ago — an endeavor which ended up earning him an Academy Award.
p. “Gone Baby Gone” is set on the streets of Affleck’s native Boston, and stars his younger brother Casey Affleck (“Ocean’s Eleven”) as private detective Patrick Kenzie. The film is based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, an author whose last work, “Mystic River,” was adapted into a cinematic masterpiece in 2003 by the one and only Clint Eastwood.
p. Needless to say, Affleck had big shoes to fill when taking the helm of Lehane’s next project. The good news is, he passed this test of celluloid aptitude with flying colors, demonstrating a talent for creating striking visuals and drawing real and courageous performances from his actors.
p. In the film, Kenzie and his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan, “Mission: Impossible III”) are called upon to aid in the search for Amanda McReady, a four-year-old who has gone missing in the heart of one of Boston’s seediest neighborhoods. In joining the case, Kenzie and Gennaro end up stepping on a few toes, including those of Boston police officers Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman, “Shawshank Redemption”) and Remy Bressant (Ed Harris, “A History of Violence”). These men are constantly wary of the young duo who are clearly more than just co-workers. Kenzie in particular is kept constantly on his toes while trying to prove that he is “worth his salt” (and his fee).
p. Nothing is as it appears in this investigation, and the boundaries between what is right and what is legal are often cause for concern for our brooding hero. Everyone is a suspect, and suddenly it becomes clear to Kenzie that the very men who are supposed to be helping him bring Amanda home could actually be the ones responsible for her disappearance. Both Kenzie’s reputation and personal life get put on the line as he doggedly pushes ahead in the investigation. Solving the case becomes less of a paid job and more of an obsessive obligation to the little girl and her family — people who are cut from the same cloth as Kenzie himself.
p. The film draws you in from the beginning. Real, non-thespian Bostonians are often seen in the background and sometimes even given a line or two, affording the film a gritty feel along a la Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”
p. The casting of young Amanda (newcomer Madeline O’Brien) was faultless; from the moment you catche a glimpse of her cherubic face on the “missing” posters, your heart melts and you feel a strong desire to see this little one found — if only in the hopes of catching even the slightest glimpse of her innocent, untainted and youthful presence onscreen.
p.Viewers are kept on the edge of their seats, but not necessarily because every single scene is completely action-packed. The real intrigue is in the fact that there are points in the film where you feel certain the investigation has hit a dead end and can simply go no further. The problem is, you’re only an hour into the film, and according to the published running time you’ve still got an hour to go. There must be something more, and the fun is in watching the gears turn in young Kenzie’s head as he starts to make connections and sort through the pieces. In fact, unlike many action films, it is the quiet, pensive scenes of reflection that really make the film so strong.
p. “Gone Baby Gone” may boast high profile stars like Freeman and Harris, but there is no question about who steals the show in this picture. In the film, we literally see the maturation of Casey Affleck into a respectable performer who is ready to be taken seriously. Gone are the days of playing the goofball sidekick. He is now a leading man on a mission: to prove to Hollywood that he is much more than a fledgling actor riding to fame on his brother’s coattails. There can certainly be no claims of nepotism in the casting of this film. Casey may be the kid brother of the director, but there is no doubt about the fact that he is perfect for this role.
p. The film ends powerfully with a moral quandary that is delectable food for thought for any armchair philosopher — or at least enough to make for great conversation on the way home. There will undoubtedly be more examples of fine cinematic craftsmanship to come as awards season draws near, but right now it seems as if there could very well be the name Affleck in an envelope or two.