After a decade of critically disgraced performances and brutal public humiliation year after year, Ben Affleck took a well deserved break from the Hollywood scene. This year he came back, but instead of taking the spotlight by starring in a film, he went behind the scenes and opted to direct his first feature film. Taking an example from another actor turned director, a little independent man named Clint Eastwood, he decided to adapt a novel written by Mystic River author Dennis Lehane. On the surface, Gone Baby Gone tells the story of a missing child and the two private investigators who are hired to find her. The story transforms into a highly disturbing tale of selfish, terrifying characters and the fact that no matter what people never change.
In deciding who to play the leading role of the intelligent, reserved, moral and slightly naive Patrick Kenzie, Ben looked no further than his brother Casey. Initially this may seem like a bad idea with lots of sibling tension on the set, but the decision couldn't have been a better one. After years of under-the-radar brilliance, Casey gets to show his acting genius in the leading role of a powerful, emotionally drenching work. I love the fact that everyone is finally getting to see what a true wonder this young actor is, with talent greater than the majority of actors I've ever seen no matter what their age. He's getting a large amount of critical recognition for his flawless turn in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but he is almost as exceptional in this one. Counterbalancing Kenzie is his mature and equally intelligent partner and lover, Angie Gennaro played by the beautiful Michelle Monaghan. The two of them grew up on the streets of Boston and therefore are pursued to use their relationships with the criminals involved to help find the men who kidnapped this little girl. This leads the audience on a highly engaging and very disturbing journey through the lowest forms of scum in the Boston population and a climax that is just as surprising as it is haunting.
The second half starts with another missing person's case and Kenzie discovers something that forces him to bring back Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), a character who he didn't end on the best of terms with in the first act. In an act of high tension and in the face of an ultimate evil, Kenzie makes a decision that he immediately regrets and is the first time he really matures in the film and falls into a moral crisis as he witnesses the true personalities of those around him and re-evaluates everything in his life. A conversation with Bressant soon after this act provides a stage for Ed Harris' remarkable display of talent in one of his career best performances. However a revelation Kenzie makes during this conversation leads us into an even darker world of corruption within the police, back to the victims of the original crime and a lesson that sometimes the most morally righteous can people can do terrifying things if they believe it is for the greater good.
Another stirring revelation leads Affleck to the film's second big twist that I didn't see coming from a mile away. He finds moral corruption, again 'for the greater good', in the most unexpected place and is led to one of the most arduous and unimaginable decisions I've ever seen put on film. I won't spoil anything, but it's safe to say that this was the first and only time I've ever put myself in the shoes of a character on screen and wondered what I would do in his situation. It's a decision I don't think I could ever make, and one of the most painful scenes of the year. Watching Affleck's expression and the pain in his eyes is truly gutwrenching. In his decision we eventually see that even in the most emotionally straining situations and no matter how much they say they will, people never change. I found that to be the final moral of the film, and the ending was haunting, cathartic and emotionally painful as we see Kenzie living with the fact that maybe his decision was the wrong one but he still tries to do the morally just thing in the end.
Ben Affleck has come back strong to the Hollywood scene by avoiding public humiliation and realizing that the film would be miles superior if he directed instead of starred in it. There is one minor flaw in this feature, and that is that it felt to me like three different films. There are two clear cut endings, but the film picks back up afterwards on the road to the final conclusion. With each new story comes depth and disturbance from the characters and overall plot, so one can easily ignore this very minuscule flaw. His casting was flawless from the stunning magnificence of Casey Affleck to the Oscar-worthy Ed Harris to the critically praised grieving mother Amy Ryan. Gone Baby Gone is certainly one of the best films this year, and I hope it's not forgotten come awards season, particularly in the form of it's reborn director and flawless leading man (as well as the rest of this multi-talented cast). A deeply disturbing and thoroughly engaging picture that is sure to stay on my mind for days.