Ben Affleck's directing debut is a devilishly complex cop thriller.
In "Gone Baby Gone," Casey Affleck digs into a missing-child case that the Boston Police Department can't solve. He plays Patrick Kenzie, a journeyman private detective with underworld connections. The victim's aunt and uncle hire Patrick and his partner/lover Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan) to work the shady side of their seedy neighborhood, where people don't like talking to authorities in uniforms.
The little girl lost is classified as a "nonfamily abduction" by the police, but they're guessing. Her mother, Helene McCready (Amy Ryan), is upset but unreliable. A drug user and sometimes mule for her suppliers, she tells a story about 4-year-old Amanda's disappearance that doesn't add up.
The earnest chief of the Crimes Against Children task force (Morgan Freeman) declares, "This child is all I care about. I'm going to bring her home." He figures that Patrick and Angie can't do any harm, so he allows them to work alongside detectives Remy Bressant (an angry, passionate Ed Harris) and his conscientious partner, Nick Poole (John Ashton).
The investigation digs deeper than what we get in standard cop fare. The young investigators face a moral dilemma from the moment they take the case. Helene is a neglectful mother who's a candidate for intervention from Child Protection Services, yet Patrick promises to put the child back in her dubious care. There's more to the case than meets the eye -- lots more -- including a number of twists leading to an 11th-hour bombshell. The detectives' search pits them against the criminal underworld, the police force and even the victim's family, and as time runs out for saving Amanda, the couple's personal relationship unravels, too.
Affleck, whose short, slicked-back hair and catatonic-genius expression make him resemble a young David Byrne, interviews scuzzbags with the air of someone too alert to fall for a hood's mind games. Brother Ben Affleck, in his directing debut, fills the movie with grungy local color and spasms of appalling violence, but he's always playing it smart. The movie is full of characters more interesting than the ones that he got to play in the past few years.
The script, based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, author of "Mystic River," is studded with throwaway lines that reveal new meanings in your mind's rearview mirror. It's deceptively simple going forward, but devilishly complex in retrospect.
Colin Covert 612-673-7186