Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gone Baby Gone. Out Tuesday the 12th. (*********9/10)

Until now, I was convinced that Ben Affleck wouldn't know a good script if it walked up to him and kicked him in the stones. Now, I am not so sure. Either he just doesn't care, as long as he's acting, or he is such a bad actor that he will ruin any script by himself. But there is a third option. Perhaps the script to Gone Baby Gone not only walked up to him and kicked him in the stones, it also bit him in the face, chewed off part of his nose, ripped out his nipple ring, stabbed him twice and then gave him the people's elbow. Or maybe it's a combination, because Ben Affleck's wisest decision as a director in Gone Baby Gone was not to cast Ben Affleck in any role in his movie. How many directors can competently direct themselves? Clint Eastwood and...yeah. Maybe just Clint. So that was good decision number one. A questionable decision was to cast his younger brother Casey in the starring role. Casey Affleck, as far as I was aware, existed only in movies that starred Ben, and even then he played some minor throw-away role. How good could he actually be?

Well, the answer, it turns out, is VERY good. Casey Affleck plays a private investigator who looks as though he is thirteen. This is great casting, because Casey Affleck does indeed look as though he is thirteen. And when the situation calls for him to act the tough guy, it somehow really works. Not only do we not expect it, neither do the bad guys. And it's pretty convincing intimidation when this young, babyfaced guy all of a sudden gets Dirty Harry tough. Everyone is taken aback, realiztically so. It's a great job by Affleck of handling the character. Somehow, with that Good Will Hunting Boston accent, you get the sense that this guy is a lot tougher than he looks. His wife is played admirably by Michelle Monaghan, an actress who is rising to the top of the heap of late with roles in movies like this one and North Country. The best performance in the movie, however, is turned in by Amy Ryan, who plays the mother of an abducted little girl. She is a coke-head, a drug mule, a drunk, in short, one of the worst mothers imaginable for a sweet young child.

Affleck and Monaghan are hired by the little girl's aunt to help find her. They are joined in their pursuit by a pair of cops, played by the excellent Ed Harris and John Ashton, and their search takes them through the seedy underbelly of Boston, dealing with drug dealers (some good and some bad) and general thugs who cause problems at every turn. Every time the movie seems to be reaching a certain conclusion, the script throws a twist into the plot, and all of a sudden Affleck and Monaghan are careening toward a different outcome. By the end of the film, the whole story becomes clear, and there is a final "showdown" that presents a Sophie's Choice kind of ending, although not nearly so dramatic. This is the only minor quibble I have with the ending. The decision reached by the characters, the course of action they choose to take, seems like a massive moral decision that would cause most of us to really wonder what we would do in that situation. But a closer examination of that choice makes it seem obvious that there is really only one choice that could be made there, the choice Affleck eventually does make. I won't tell you the details, I haven't really revealed anything here, but you'll have to watch the movie yourself. It is being released by Alliance Atlantis on Tuesday, and really needs to be watched to be understood. Watch this movie.

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