Thursday, November 1, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

If this film is representative of what we have to look forward to with Ben Affleck’s directorial work, I hope he never goes back to acting. With this film, he moves into that pantheon of actors-turned-superior directors that a surprising number of his predecessors have already joined.

The film is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the novel Mystic River. I haven’t read either, but I can say that I enjoyed this film a good deal more than his previous effort, which didn’t quite achieve the emotional intensity it was trying for. This one hits its emotional notes perfectly, largely by paying such close attention to its characters, making them all seem like actual people you’d see in some dive bar in Boston.

The plot concerns Casey Affleck as a low-rent detective in Boston who’s called in on a kidnapping case. The child of a local junkie has gone missing, and the police don’t have any leads. It’s one of those stories where everyone seems suspect, and every character is holding something back, usually for surprisingly intelligent and well-defined reasons, something that’s a bit of a rarity with these kinds of movies. I can’t reveal more of the plot, as that would do the film a great disservice, but it unfolds with a great, slowly building relentlessness, as the various lies, and lies upon lies, are slowly stripped away, until we’re left without any real heroes or villains, just genuine pain, and people trying to do what they think is right, and failing.

Affleck directs all this with a sure hand; like his fellow actor-directors such as De Niro, Gibson, and Eastwood, he knows to trust his story and let it play out slowly, giving his actors room to breathe and work magic for him. Were this year not already so crowded with more likely Oscar contenders, I’d wager this would have won a couple acting awards, if nothing else. At the very least, it deserves a few nominations, not the least of which should go to Casey, who between this and The Assassination of Jesse James… has really come into his own this year. It’s not the best film I’ve seen this year, but so far it’s definitely in my top five.

Rating: *** ½

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