Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Gone Baby Gone (2007, Ben Affleck) [8]

Well, dress me up in a Santa Claus suit, because I'm just giving 8s away! But I honestly wouldn't be if I didn't think the movies deserved them, and this one is no exception. Like fellow actor-turned-director Clint Eastwood did four years ago with Mystic River, Affleck has turned a Dennis Lehane novel into potent cinema. But although Affleck isn't nearly the director Clint is, I actually think that works to the film's advantage. Eastwood's direction of Mystic River was moody and portentous from get-go, signaling that we weren't just watching another urban murder mystery, but Affleck's more meat-and-potatoes filmmaking actually gears the audience up for a fairly conventional, though well-told, whodunit, all the better the spring the serious stuff on us unawares. Gone Baby Gone is the rare Hollywood movie that actually gets better as it goes along, revealing more interesting shadings. The key to this movie isn't the solving of the mystery or the finding of the little girl, but the moral debate at its center, a conflict between absolutism and relativism. Interestingly, Lehane flips the usual pattern of these films by making the private investigator the story's primary proponent for black-and-white morality. SPOILER: It's because of this that the film's final reel, which will no doubt prove to be a point of contention for many audiences and critics, worked wonderfully for me. Time and again in the film, the line of morality isn't drawn between cops and civilians, but the older and younger characters. Patrick (Casey Affleck) has never really gotten his hands dirty, so he isn't sympathetic to the moral code of the older cops (Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris) who are willing to bend morality to serve the greater good (someone should book a double bill of this and Hot Fuzz in my opinion). In many ways, Patrick is still thinking in the mindset handed down to him by his childhood priest- "clever as snakes, innocent as doves." Yet by the end of the movie, he begins to come around to their way of thinking. He fulfills his moral obligation to return the little girl to her skanky, unfit mother, but while he knows he did the right thing, he finds himself sharing the older men's compulsion to do right by the girl above all else. So he takes it upon himself to keep an eye on her. What else is there left for him to do? END SPOILER. Now, I'm not advocating that Ben turn all of his attention to directing- the jury's still out on how much talent he has in that area. But he's smart enough to stay out of Lehane's way, and in this case that's more than enough.


James said...

I saw this last night and was very moved. It's rare to see a film that raises complex issues and doesn't simply offer a solution, but deals with them in an affecting manner.

Paul C. said...

Yeah, it's pretty potent stuff. I was expecting a pretty-good adaptation of Lehane, but this sort of blew me away. Ben Affleck- who knew?