Affleck overcomes B-movie past with “Gone Baby Gone”

His directorial debut is mostly successful

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Photo by Courtesy/Miramax Films

(L-R) Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, and Michelle Monaghan are all part of the ensembel cast of the crime drama, “Gone Baby Gone,” directed by Afleck’s actor brother, Ben.

“Daredevil.” “Surviving Christmas.” “Gigli.” These are cinematic failures on a grand scale that share one much maligned actor in the lead roles: Ben Affleck. While he had many strong supporting roles at the outset of his career, his checkered history as a lead actor has overshadowed his achievements.

The truly great creative talent is able to overcome adversity and enhance the directors’ careers as well as their art, and that is what Affleck does in his feature directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone.”

Affleck, along with fellow Bostonian Aaron Stockard, take on the tough task of adapting the acclaimed novel by Dennis Lehane, a highly revered Boston writer. This is especially tough since the last film adaptation of a Lehane work was the Clint Eastwood directed classic, “Mystic River.” Despite these looming obstacles, this writing pair creates a layered crime drama that presents an everyday story with many profound moral questions.

The cast, led by Casey Affleck, provides some great performances; more solid acting here strengthens Casey’s chances at good future projects. Two great up-and-coming actresses, Michelle Monahan and Amy Ryan, as well as two excellent perennials, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, accompany him. Ben Affleck directs this group with outstanding skill as each supporting actor plays his or her part with no supporting star outshining the lead.

The story revolves around a case of a missing little girl, Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien), daughter to a drug-addicted single mother, Helene McCready (Amy Ryan). Private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his girlfriend/assistant, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monahan), are hired by the McCreadys to help out with the neighborhood angle of the investigation. The two are met with hostility as the head of the Boston Police’s Missing Children’s Unit, Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and two detectives, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and his partner Nick Poole (John Ashton), are forced to comply with them.

From here the story turns from police procedure to a series of twists and turns that not only deal directly with life and death, but also carry deep moral implications. This film will not just keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will also make you think long after you leave the cinema.

However, “Gone Baby Gone” does have some faults. It did seem to drag a bit in the first half of the film. Affleck takes too much time setting up the story; he focuses a little too much on procedure, and it hurts the story. In doing so, he doesn’t connect all the dots right away in the second half, yet this ultimately doesn’t undermine the story. There are also a few places in which dialogue could have been cut or changed, but the dialogue is fluid and engaging for the most part.

Also, the film doesn’t deal with the scenery of Boston as well as other Boston films, but that’s not too big a flaw. “Gone Baby Gone” is not substantial as other Boston classics like “Mystic River,” “Good Will Hunting” and “The Departed,” but it is also is a first directorial feature. Affleck has a bright future. He is on his way to becoming an amazing actor-turned-director on par with others like Robert Redford, Sean Penn, Mel Gibson and Clint Eastwood.

Gone Baby Gone is rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language. The strong language is accurate to the setting of the film, and it does not hamper the story. This film is definitely one to see for great acting and story, and it provokes interesting questions of morality as well.

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