Affleck's feature directing debut is strong on atmospherics and moral quandaries. Based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, the novelist who also penned Mystic River
, Affleck's film is a companion in dark mood to that 2003 award-winning film adaptation. Gone Baby Gone
is a story that seems to gurgle up from the streets of the working-class Boston neighborhood in which much of it is set. The director's brother, Casey, stars as the film's central character, Patrick Kenzie, a private investigator who's lived on the same neighborhood block his whole life. He and his live-in partner in work and romance, Angie Gennaro (Monaghan), instinctively decline a job offer to find a 4-year-old girl who's been missing for three days but eventually succumb to the pleas of the girl's insistent aunt and uncle (Madigan and Welliver). Patrick feels that although his professional mettle is more of the skip-tracing sort, his knowledge of the streets might allow people with information to talk to him who might not otherwise talk to the cops. The hardcore captain of the police's Crimes Against Children unit, Jack Doyle (Freeman), allows Patrick and Angie to tag along with his detectives on the case (Harris and Ashton), who have yet to turn up any clues. The child had lived with her irresponsible single mother, a coke fiend and a drunk. (Ryan delivers an impressive performance as a wretch of a mother – someone you'd readily nominate for court-ordered sterilization.) One clue eventually leads to the next, and the mystery appears to be solved around the film's halfway point. Yet a stray comment eats at Patrick, and he continues to poke at the case after it's closed. The second half of the film journeys to a dark place, where the question that hovers is whether Patrick – and the audience – can handle the truth. Patrick finds himself doing wrong things for the right reason: for the sake of the child. Gone Baby Gone
tackles questions that become more and more pertinent in America as each week seemingly brings monstrous news of another atrocious case of child abuse. What is the proper punishment for child abusers and molesters? As a leading man, Casey Affleck (who also co-stars in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
, which is also currently in theatres) has a nebbishy quality and a mumbly speaking voice that I personally find disruptive to a movie's flow. His brother Ben's career as a film director appears set on a solid course, however. Maybe one day Casey will also make the switch from acting and find his true calling in the film industry.