Casey Affleck in Gone Baby Gone (dir. Ben Affleck, 2007).
It's so surprising that Ben Affleck is as good a director and writer as he turns out to be on Gone Baby Gone that one wants to overlook the film's flaws. But they're there, and they're fairly serious. I haven't read Dennis Lehane's novel, so I don't know if this defect originates with it, but that's neither here nor there. The fact is that what starts as an engrossing mystery suffers at midpoint from clumsy plot development and never recovers. Halfway through, the missing-child story seems to be resolved, but of course very soon something is revealed that suggests there is more to the picture. The problem: the way in which this something is revealed is that the main character (Patrick Kenzie, played by Casey Affleck) simply announces it. We do see the moment in which the clue is dropped, just as he does, but there is nothing dramatic about the transition from clue to revelation. It's just, one scene: clue is dropped; next scene: Kenzie says, hey, that was a clue. And sure enough, it was, and from then on, it's just a bunch of flashbacks and confessions. There is another twist that is supposed to catch us by surprise, but by then all the tension has dissipated and it just feels like you should have seen it coming. Which maybe you did.
There's also a subplot that plays out midway through, about another missing child, a subplot whose function is much too transparently to present Kenzie with a psychic and ethical burden he must measure against the burdens borne by others. Again, I wonder how much of this is Lehane's fault: Mystic River too (the movie at least--I didn't read that one either) was similarly laden with forced primal-sin Catholic psychodrama. It reveals my bias as a viewer, of course, that my ideal is the lean, well-oiled crime narrative rather than the symbolic urban tragedy.
It's still worth seeing, largely for Casey Affleck. When he's making the rounds in his scuzzy Boston neighborhood, interviewing the locals and looking for leads, the movie comes alive. Affleck's Kenzie looks and sounds like a teenager, and it's a neat hook. You feel his vulnerability, and when he responds to provocation as a tough guy, it feels like a bluff--which it must be in part, which makes his courage seem all the more impressive, as even he doesn't seem convinced it will work. Despite his movie-star good looks, he's very believable as the city kid who grew up with all the dealers and gangbangers, and who can still pull off being one of them even as he is separated from them by his alignment with law enforcement.
The other outstanding performance comes from Amy Ryan as the coke-whore mother of the missing girl. She makes what could have been a standard "white trash" stereotype into a fully-formed character. She's so out of it that she forgets herself in the middle of the crisis and makes gay jokes. In fact, she seems to spend more time smiling than not--it's like she knows something about life's sick joke and has just decided to roll with it, a kind of strength.
Labels: Ben Affleck