Monday, March 03, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone (2007) 8/10
Private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) investigate the disappearance of a four year old girl. Even after the case is closed, their lives are haunted by it. Directed by Ben Affleck.

There's a great deal to commend in Gone Baby Gone. It has an extraordinary sense of place. This is the movie you imagined Ben Affleck might make after Good Will Hunting; suffused with Boston neighborhoods and rooted in the particulars of that life, those accents, those people, that reality. That sort of thing can easily turn into parody or mockery, but the "ahhm" you put in your sleeve in this movie isn't the "real good, then" of Fargo. It doesn't make you laugh, it just is. And it really works.

The plot moves rapidly. Early on I realized that this couldn't just be about the missing girl, because the pieces were coming together too quickly. I never could predict what would happen next, it was twisty and turny and smart.

In a featurette, Ben Affleck talks briefly about what it was like for his brother, a character actor, to switch to lead. But in a sense, Casey isn't a leading man, he's a character actor who happens to have the lead in this cast. Certainly, he doesn't have the commanding presence of Ed Harris or Morgan Freeman, both playing cops in the missing child unit. And somehow that works: Patrick Kenzie, a little in over his head, a little outclassed, trying to stand up to these formidable cops.

The movie also has a clear point of view, navigating the waters of moral uncertainty with a conviction that this is what the story must be about.

So why isn't this a truly great movie? I'm not sure I can say. Maybe too many twists and reversions. Maybe a sense of loss and guilt is not enough to carry the movie. Maybe Michelle Monaghan is just too jarringly inadequate—this is the second movie I've seen her in where I though, Wow, she's trying so hard to keep up with the real actors. There's something that feels off-balance, and maybe that is in having the most charismatic actors (particularly Ed Harris) off to the side.

In the end, I can certainly recommend the film, and it certainly speaks well for Ben Affleck's future as a director, but it's not a work of genius or anything like that.

This is, by the way, the last Oscar-nominated film (Amy Ryan as the missing girl's mother for Best Supporting Actress) that I managed to squeeze in before the ceremony—I watched it Sunday afternoon.

(Cross-post, Baby, Cross-post)