Gone Baby Gone (2007)
The Plot: When a four-year-old girl goes missing, the distraught family hires private investigators Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to aid the police (Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, others) in their investigation. As the investigators move ever closer to solving the mystery, they overturn a series of increasingly disturbing and upsetting clues, they talk a lot about children and the people who victimize them, and moral grey areas ensue.
Wow, that plot synopsis doesn’t make it sound like Ben Affleck is so hot right now in this movie…is he even in this movie? What are you driving at, Second Breakfast guy? Don’t worry, dear reader, all will be explained in good time, but first I need to address a few other things about this movie.
This is the directorial debut of Oscar-winning writer Ben Affleck. That’s a fun phrase. He got that award for Good Will Hunting, shared with Oscar-winning writer Matt Damon. Actors have thoughts, too, you guys. Since 2007, Affleck has also directed such critically acclaimed films as The Town and Best Picture-winner Argo. All in all, I guess he’s got a pretty good rep as a director, so…yeah, good for him. Not a lot to add there. I saw him in person one time. He looked good.
Anyway, back on track. Gone Baby Gone is a well-directed film, but its strengths are really in the script and the performances. Affleck co-adapted the script with Aaron Stockard (The Town) from the novel by Denis Lehane, who also wrote Shutter Island and Mystic River; he’s a cheerful dude; those books are all really fun to read. This is an emotionally trying story. The characters constantly struggle to do the right thing, and they second-guess every decision they make, because the life of an innocent child depends upon them. Despite the heightened stakes and, yeah, incredibly dramatic consequences, Affleck and Stockard keep things restrained and realistic. I wouldn’t describe anything in this film as hammy.
The performances perfectly match the tone of the script, without any notable missteps. Even Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris, who are both wonderful actors, but tend to get cast as caricatures of themselves, get to do some serious acting. As for realism, the most famous story from the production of this film regards Oscar-nominee Amy Ryan, who was once forbidden by security to enter the shooting location because they actually mistook her for a local. I guess the one thing worth complaining about here is that most of the characters have Boston accents, and I kind of hate Boston accents. It was the worst part of The Town, and one of the several things wrong with Scorsese’s The Depaaded. Still, Affleck sort of uses it…he creates a noticeable division between characters with horrible Boston accents and those without.
Now, the number one problem with all movies like this is the twist. You know that there will probably end up being one. Usually it’s something stupid like “The good guy’s really the bad guy!” or “The family member did it for some stupid reason!” or “Somehow a combination of both those things!” Those twists are never good or clever, and the movie always tends to go down hill afterwards. Well, sure enough, Gone Baby Gone has one of those stupid half-assed twists. At first, I hated it and it ruined the movie for me, but they remarkably manage to pick up the pieces, reassemble everything, and make me actually like the stupid twist. It works, because of the way the characters respond to it, and because it happens about a half an hour before the end of the movie, and so they have time to build towards a fabulous, appropriately morally ambiguous ending. That’s really the success of Gone Baby Gone in a nutshell: strong character development and rampant moral conundrums. All in all, it’s a great film, and I think the strongest in Affleck’s directorial career.
Oh yeah, so… Ben Affleck. I promised I would explain myself. Why did I name this article “Second Breakfast: Ben Affleck Is So Hot Right Now”? Is he even in this movie? Nope. Would I ever allow the word “sexy” to come within a hundred yards of this movie? Nope. Well then why? Let me answer that in the form of an alternate title: “Second Breakfast Reviews a Depressing Drama About Child Endangerment”. As is, I’m looking to cap at about eighteen hits on this article, but that’s about ten more than I would have gotten with an honest title. Call me a sell-out, but what can I say? Sex sells.