Gone Baby Gone: Whoda Thunk it?
I'm pleased to report that GONE, BABY, GONE is pretty good stuff.
I've had my fun over the years poking fun at the source of this film, a sterling example of hard-boiled bloat I simply found LONG, BABY, LONG. But first time director Ben Affleck cut out plenty of narrative fat from Dennis "MYSTIC RIVER" Lehane's book, and has delivered one of the best made-for-adults P.I. flicks in a long, long time; a lean, mean directorial debut that I don't think anyone saw coming.
I mean, sure, Affleck got an Oscar for co-writing GOOD WILL HUNTING with Matt Damon, but then, Affleck also has delivered more stinky, smirky cheese than any other actor his age in recent memory. But maybe all those cinematic turkeys served a purpose after all -- maybe Ben was taking notes.
He certainly seems to have learned well. Maybe his last turn as an actor -- a surprisingly solid, nuanced turn in HOLLYWOODLAND -- was the tell.
He gets so much right in GONE BABY GONE that it's hard to know where to start, but perhaps the most obvious is the casting. Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris in particular shine, like the seasoned pros they are, but he coaxes great performances out of the entire cast. In particular his kid brother Casey, in the lead role as P.I. Patrick Kenzie.
Casey looks about twelve, but he pulls it off with surprising effectiveness. The showdown in the bar with the locals is a classic -- the sorta scene that in most flicks usually ends up in an excess of violence and stuntmen working overtime and scenery smashing gets turned on its head; this is hard-boiled reduced to its essence. Not the willingness to loudly go at it, but to quietly stand up to the threat of it.
Both Bubba and Angie's characters have also been stripped down to their essence -- thank god -- and the stories moves quickly and stays focussed on the hunt for a missing little girl, culminating in a satisfyingly noirish ending that recalls CHINATOWN. Favourably.
And the feel for Boston is dead-on, more THE DEPARTED than SPENSER FOR HIRE, thankfully. The language, the attitude, the claustrophobic vibe of guilt and grit and working class dreams that get broken before they even start -- it all works. I'm not sure if rookie director Affleck can ever pull this off again -- being a Boston boy himself no doubt helped immeasurably -- but this is a good one. Not just adequate, or "too too bad," but arguably one of the best P.I. films ever made, and certainly the best in far too long.