Gone Baby Gone (2007)
When Ben Affleck made his debut as a writer with Good Will Hunting in 1997 alongside friend Matt Damon, their promising talent created fuzz in the business. Eleven years and a couple of dozen acting films later, Affleck hasn't quite been able to dazzle equally in front of the camera. When he makes his directorial debut with the Dennis Lehane story Gone Baby Gone, it becomes more apparent than ever that his skills behind the camera outshines his thespian talent.
The last year has taught us yet another thing about the Affleck family - namely that kid brother Casey is about to establish himself as one of the leading young performers in the business. He thrusts Gone Baby Gone forward solidly, and completes a remarkable breakthrough year as a lead after his brilliant performance in The Assassination of Jesse James. Through Casey's delicate combination of sensitiveness and brutish temper, we are presented with the core of this film - how a society as diversed, violent and unfriendly as 21st century big-town United States will affect its inhabitants unless they are properly cared for. There are wonderful and poetic truths scattered in Gone Baby Gone - one (and arguably the best) appearing already in the opening scene as the character of actor Affleck argues that the things which affect us the most in life are the things we don't choose. That's a line which makes you wonder.
Like Mystic River, there is ambivalence in most every character in Gone Baby Gone. Director Affleck acknowledges and works well with this, and his direction has a moving, poetic touch to it throughout. The narrative presentation is quite traditional detective style, but an effective one at that. The film offers good excitement in addition to the fact that it raises discussion and highlights dilemmas. The final one faced by actor Affleck being the epitome of them all.
What keeps Gone Baby Gone from achieving the unequivocal effect which director Affleck probably would have wanted, is the unconspicuous motivation of some key characters and key events towards the end. It occured to me that this kind of plotting would only have been done by movie characters - and that is not something which should enter the mind of the viewer of a good drama. Actor Affleck's character remains the soul of the story - but he isn't only morally on his own in the end, he is also given the task of purifying an increasingly more muddy narrative.
Perhaps Gone Baby Gone's most remarkable feat is its coinciding with the Madeleine McCann case in Europe a few months before the release of the film. There are many striking similarities with the two cases (one being the rather remarkable likeness of the girls), but there are also quite definite differences. They often say that the truth is stranger than fiction. Well, for all its skillful and suspenseful plotting, perhaps the one thing Gone Baby Gone is lacking is that it's not quite strange enough.