starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris
screenplay by Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard, based on the novel by Dennis Lehane
directed by Ben Affleck
by Walter Chaw It hurts a little to watch Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone, making the experience tricky because so much of it is so pleasurable. There's a moment in particular when amateur gumshoes Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) are flanked by veteran homicide dicks Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) at the beginning of an interrogation sequence that made my heart leap with joy. 2007 is shaping up to be the year that saw the best of the early New American Cinema genres resurrected through the prism of our national nightmare of paranoia and discontent; Gone Baby Gone slots in as the doppelgänger-in-spirit to that period's empty films noir: hard-boiled detectives left knowing less at journey's end than they did at the start. (Compare the way this picture uses genre as a launching pad instead of as a straitjacket.) The final image is an enduring one--in the days since I've seen Gone Baby Gone, it's hardly left my mind--and where bits of jingoistic garbage like Rendition are rattling bleeding heart sabres with patronizing, simpleminded zeal, here's a movie that takes the sobering, mature stance that even things that are black-and-white are never black-and-white. Light years ahead of the last adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel (Mystic River), Gone Baby Gone is about the insanity of agreeing to be absolutely in love in a temporary, capricious universe. It's about parenthood and, a recurring theme in Lehane's books, the cult of manhood, too: what defines loyalty and how those tenets are the tenterhooks to which we're attached to each other in the bedlam of everything else. It's hollow comfort to discover that once the dust settles, the only thing that makes us men is the handshake agreement to perceive ourselves as something other than animals--if nothing more than animals.
Patrick and Angie are the ostensible naïfs thrown to Beantown's wolves, drifting from dive to backroom to warehouse to crackhouse, armed with some tenuous sense of right in a morally grey world. They're hired by the aunt and uncle (Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver) of an abducted four-year-old girl to talk to the people in the neighbourhood who won't talk to the police, and the way director Affleck shoots the back alleys of Boston is so intimate and unforgiving as to be almost embarrassed. The police chief heading the investigation is crusader Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who, as the victim of an unendurable loss in his own past, has made it his mission to head a special victims unit specializing in missing children--his chief lieutenants Bressant (Harris, tremendous) and Poole the kind of cops inured to the ugliness and hopelessness of their undertaking. ("We're in a war. We're losing.") The way that Gone Baby Gone works is in taking what is by now a too-familiar genre (one "Law and Order" spin-off is specifically devoted to this shit, no?) and re-shaping it into a moral inquisition into how we perceive ourselves, the provisions necessary to persist in our delusions of security, and the lies with which we reassure ourselves of our essential righteousness. Not enough to call it topical--Gone Baby Gone would be current in any time. That it happens to address our international state of affairs (the rules we're willing to burn to defend the same set of rules, for instance) is just the unhappy side-effect of our own climate of patriotic dirty tricks.
Whatever the reason, Gone Baby Gone feels like an important film, as well as an unconventionally entertaining one. It's ferociously acted; the young Affleck offers a performance to augment his brother's direction that cements in my mind the roles the two should take on into the future. Consider the breathless, reserved way the elder Affleck shoots the storming of a barricaded old house, the grisly discovery in an upstairs bathroom, and the product of a series of violent acts that ends, a few scenes later, with a conversation between young Patrick and crusty Bressant about regret, forgiveness, and the impossibility of doing the right thing when there's no reliable yardstick for measuring propriety. And it's all done without a hint of saccharine sentimentality or even of much moralizing: Affleck saves the introspection for the quiet moments he allows his cast to sit, eyes to the distance, remembering acts that can never be recovered. Gone Baby Gone is, above all else, about the full weight of action and reaction, with small explosions engendering long stretches dissecting the aftershocks. It's a film concerned with the unexpected consequences to the best intentions; the old maxim about the road to Hell is literalized in this exceptional procedural.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Miramax brings Gone Baby Gone to Blu-ray under the Buena Vista umbrella in a 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that's very evocative of the theatrical experience. Grain, ever present, has a tendency to spike in low-lit scenes, which I still say is preferable to it being filtered out altogether (especially under the gritty conditions of Gone Baby Gone). You could criticize the image for being kind of soft and low contrast, but I suspect the BD is a pretty accurate reflection of artistic intent--with the exception of a curious artifact whereby skin tones take on a subtly posterized appearance in areas of shadow. (I thought this was something limited to Sony titles, as the only other times I've encountered it were while watching Hollow Man and Bram Stoker's Dracula on the format.) Thankfully, this is a minor problem in the long run, as it affects few scenes outside of Patrick and Angie's introduction to Lionel and Bea (chapter 2). The word I'd use to describe the accompanying 5.1 Dolby Digital audio (640 kbps) is dilatable: Deceptively monophonic at first, it blossoms to nightmarish life in the gun fights that seem to denote act breaks; if I felt at a disadvantage not being able to listen to the attendant PCM uncompressed track (also 5.1, but 24-bit), it wasn't for lack of immersion but rather for the dialogue, which sometimes sounds a little clipped in Dolby.
Extras begin with a solid feature-length yakker from director Ben Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard. Although Affleck's lamentations of unrealized ambitions are symptomatic of a first-time filmmaker, because he's been around the block as an actor (and is, lest we forget, an Oscar-winning screenwriter), he can, unlike most newbies, talk the talk without coming across as pretentious. I liked the discussion of how a certain actor was conveying so much with his eyes that his deathbed soliloquy got whittled down to a single line of dialogue; it's these signs of cultivated wisdom that make Affleck easier to listen to than your average Park City protégé.
The two chums return for optional commentary over six deleted scenes, many of which constitute a subplot that paints Angie as a victim of abuse--something that "felt didactic" according to Affleck. (I concur.) Referred to as a "thought-provoking extended ending" within the back cover's shamelessly hyperbolic ad copy ("Casey Affleck and Morgan Freeman are even more electrifying in spectacular 1080p..."), the alternate closer is virtually the same save the restoration of some Blade Runner-esque voiceover. Again (Ben) Affleck proves no hack: He says he wanted the audience, whom he'd conditioned to expect narration, to feel as though the climactic turn of events had struck Patrick dumb. Who knew that the guy who said "yes" to Paycheck and J.Lo was capable of such shrewd decisions? Heck, I'm almost ready to forgive the 7-minute Affleck hagiography ("Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck") that joins another worthless EPK ("Capturing Authenticity: Casting Gone Baby Gone" (9 mins.)) in rounding out the special features. (For what it's worth, these featurettes are presented in 1080i, while the elisions are windowboxed at 480i.) Blu-ray propaganda plus HD trailers for No Country for Old Men, Becoming Jane, and Dan in Real Life cue up on startup. Originally published: February 11, 2008.