Gone Baby Gone
Maybe Casey should wear a bib the next time he goes to The Olive Garden.

Golden Mug

Best Picture
Supporting Actress (Michelle Monaghan)
Adapted Screenplay (Dennis Lehane – novel; Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard – screenplay)
Score (Harry Gregson-Williams)

Theatrical Release Date: 10/19/2007
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan

Nepotism in Hollywood is far from abnormal. The problem is that sometimes your relatives aren’t all talented (yes, I’m talking about your brothers Alec Baldwin). Luckily for Ben Affleck, his brother Casey can act, so casting him in the lead role in Ben’s directorial debut wasn’t just payback for all of the crap Casey’s had to endure about “The Voyage of the Mimi”.

Luckily for audiences, “Gone, Baby, Gone” is in the Afflecks’ wheelhouse. The story of an abducted girl in Boston, Casey Affleck plays a private detective hired to help find the missing child. Like any good mystery, there are a few twists and the reason that the film succeeds is an excellent synergy between the direction, the script and the actors.

I know there are many people who scoff at Ben Affleck these days (and yes, I tend to be one of them) … but I’m going to officially stop that after this review. His talent for storytelling is evident in my personal favorite film, “Good Will Hunting” and while a lot of that may have been deflected by director Gus Van Sant or co-star/co-writer Matt Damon, this directorial debut is nothing short of stunning.

There are numerous scenes showing off his ability to not only frame the actors and their interactions but the city of Boston itself. There are a number of wide shots showing off the beautiful city and these are almost as important as getting to know the characters, as Bostonians seem to be so connected to their city, making knowing their neighborhood just as important as knowing their family.

Being a Boston native, Affleck knows the area and this pays off big time. The characters and the setting marry together wonderfully. Aside from the many, many recognizable actors, everyone else could just have well have been whoever was sitting in the bar when the cameras showed up. That ability to feel natural pays off big time and I credit Affleck for creating that environment.

Now as for the actors, everyone does a superb job. Between this and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, Casey Affleck is flexing off his ability to carry a film all by himself. This is yet another solid performance and if it weren’t for the more drastic character development in “Jesse James”, I would have nominated him for a Golden Mug for this anyway.

Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are the big hitters, as far as acting cred goes, and their performances live up to their reputation. And while Amy Ryan is getting all of the award attention (deservingly so), I personally found Michelle Monaghan’s character to have more depth and substance. Monaghan hasn’t had too much of a chance to show off her acting but here her character is essentially speaking for the audience. While Casey is the type of moral and just person we all wish we could be, Monaghan is probably more realistic and a great counterbalance to Affleck’s character.

As mentioned before, it takes a few elements working together to craft a great film and the script here is also top notch. The dialogue feels natural and the way that Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard were able to adapt Dennis Lehane’s novel worked very well … to a point.

The one knock I have on the film, the one that keeps this from a perfect rating, is that the story takes an important turn about 80% of the way through. From that point to the end is something you could almost do an entire film about, let alone over the span of 20 or 30 minutes. This rush to the finale felt forced and I was enjoying this so much, I wouldn’t have minded pushing the running time up to 2 and a half hours. There wasn’t a problem with pacing here so I know I could have taken it.

If you like mystery/thrillers, there are only three good ones you could choose from in 2007; “The Lookout“, “Fracture“, and this. I think you should see all three but feel free to start here and work backwards (which after seeing “The Lookout” will make more sense). I’m giving “Gone Baby Gone” a super strong 4 out of 5 and will now officially end my Ben Affleck jokes … until he makes “Gigli 2″ … or leaves Jennifer Garner for the next latin pop superstar. I reserve the right to be a scathing cad once again should either of those things happen.