Gone Baby Gone
Like the western, the crime movie is a genre that refuses to die. Directed by Ben Affleck and based on the 1999 thriller by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone continues the tradition by incorporating a TV staple--child-abduction dramatizations--into a character study that fails to reveal much about character. While Clint Eastwood's 2003 adaptation of Lehane's 1999 Mystic River overcame its genre limitations to explore the stressed relationships between its characters, Gone continually excuses itself from introspection to chase the next event in the story line.
This rush of plot is due to the fact that Gone comes from Lehane's serial meal ticket, the continuing adventures of Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The young, attractive private detectives--and sometimes lovers--are members of Boston's close-knit, white ethnic neighborhoods that produce most of the city's victims as well as its criminals. Although they're known for tracking down missing adults, a tearful woman enlists them in finding her sister's young daughter, who disappeared one evening while her mother was out. For the first hour or so, Gone operates as a standard procedural, with the requisite false leads and repeat interviews with daytime regulars at a neighborhood bar that suggest organized-crime syndicates were the crime's cause.
And then Gone takes several unexpected turns, each less believable than the last, to arrive at an unconvincing conclusion. And while the movie takes seriously its probing questions about what is best for children living in less-than-ideal households, it doesn't allow the characters to explore these questions in depth.
Like Affleck's other script--1997's Good Will Hunting, co-written with Matt Damon--Gone attempts to rehabilitate the long-damaged reputation of Boston's Irish population. But without a Will Hunting character, Affleck instead boosts the reputation of his favored characters by tearing down those of everyone else, including a detective from Louisiana, an African-American police chief, and the immigrants who have helped diversify the city in recent years.
While Eastwood washed Dorchester in blues and grays, Affleck is more apt to contrast the dark interiors of the windowless bars with the hard sunshine of the outside world. Every time his characters move from one location to another, we're provided an overhead shot as if we're getting directions from Google Earth. In this way, Gone Baby Gone is a pulpier version of the crime flicks getting made these days, with touches of horror and melodrama familiar to viewers of television drama. But like TV leads, the heroes here are soft and ineffective, making the movie a difficult sell for those who want a crime picture either to reveal unexpected truths about the world or to provide senseless violence. Instead, this movie has the moral ambivalence of its title.