Brothers in Arts

Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre December 14 2007

Gone Baby Gone
Directed by Ben Affleck
Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
Starring Casey Affleck

In Ben Affleck’s world, people matter. Families matter. That’s why in his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone, establishing locations and beauty shots of lower Boston don’t matter (they’re in the movie, but they’re not emphasized). It’s quite noticeable that people are always talking in Gone Baby Gone, many times in close-ups, because that’s what matters – people communicating, interacting and dealing with each other. And because family is important, Ben hired his brother, Casey, to star in his show.

The movie deals with the kidnapping of four year old Amanda McCready and the search and investigation that followed her disappearance. Ben’s younger brother Casey Affleck plays Patrick Kenzie, the private investigator hired by Amanda’s aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) to investigate the case, despite the best efforts of the police, led by Capt. Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman).
The entire movie rests on how Patrick and his partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) piece together information that they have gathered one shocking twist after another, even if the investigation means casting the neighborhood’s most trusted residents into serious doubt.

The big deal about this movie is that it proves Affleck’s Oscar for screenwriting (for Good Will Hunting) was not a fluke. Tight as mystery movies can be, Gone Baby Gone’s most noticeable achievement is a very impressive performance from an ensemble cast, particularly that of Amy Ryan, who plays Amanda’s foul-mouthed, lowlife of a mother Helene. Here Affleck the director shows a certain level of confidence in dealing with fine actors, and also a great deal of guts to cast his own brother in a very challenging role.

This is not your Pinoy style melodrama, where the main character needs to shed a tear, close-up, in order to win an award. In contrast, Helene has the very internalized struggle of proving to others she is a worthy mother to her missing child even if the way people see her say otherwise. Patrick, too has to prove he has the moral fiber to finish the investigation even when law excludes him from doing so. This mystery movie is very much character-based rather than plot-driven, and the filmmakers pulled it off quite very well.

Gone Baby Gone is Ben Affleck’s thesis on responsible parenthood, his polemic on why some people deserve to be parents (as expressed by Patrick’s defense of Helene as Amanda’s rightful caretaker, despite her “unmotherly” outlook), and why some people don’t (as expressed by Patrick’s final debate with Capt. Doyle). Maybe this is a result of Ben being a first-time dad. Maybe not. But this drama does have strong opinions about parenting.

Visually the piece has a confident urban look, not too glossy but not stylized, and thanks to the low budget, the frame is almost always reserved for the characters’ almost continuous dialogue, which is the most important thing in the movie. However, there is a side trip in the plot (about the search for a boy believed to have been kidnapped by a child molester) which tends to fortify Patrick’s character but doesn’t push the main story along. That part could have been structured better, but then Affleck is still a rookie director, so that is forgiven.

Ben could’ve easily directed a romantic comedy or an all-star heist which could have been easier or more enjoyable to work on. Instead he and his staff have carefully pieced together a tightly-woven drama about child abuse and parenting. For both Affleck brothers this is a commendable collaboration. As Casey gets recognized with each film outing, particularly in the coming The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Ben’s first project as a director only shows he knows what he’s doing.


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