`Gone' with grit

Ben Affleck's strong directorial debut finds the dark heart of his city

Review B+

October 19, 2007|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

With Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck has taken a best-selling Dennis Lehane novel and made a compelling, sometimes terrifying, and, on occasion, bleakly funny urban mystery about failure. His private-eye hero, Patrick Kenzie (Affleck's younger brother Casey), struggles to crack the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl named Amanda McCready from the rough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. His quest exacts a cost in emotion and moral certainty each step of the way. With every advance in his investigation, Kenzie faces some shortcoming or breakdown in individuals and organizations. His partner and lover, Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), argues against taking the case strictly on the grounds of psychological self-preservation. By the end, she seems psychic.

Affleck does a far better job of extracting a tight narrative while preserving serpentine characters than Clint Eastwood did with Lehane's Mystic River. (Affleck co-wrote the script with Aaron Stockard.) In Gone Baby Gone, the filmmaker must dash through a yawning implausibility or two en route to the obligatory scene that explains everything. But Affleck's focus - the tragedy and mordant comedy of urban corruption and decline, and the blunders and debacles of good guys and bad guys alike - gives the film an urgent emotional unity.

Gone Baby Gone (Miramax) Starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan. Directed by Ben Affleck. Rated R. Time 114 minutes.

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