A review of “Gone Baby Gone” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for excessive violence, drug use and language

Run Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

 

 

          Ben Affleck sheds a long history of leading man tabloid hype by stepping behind the camera to adapt one of Dennis Lehane’s provocative PI novels to the big screen.

          It’s a good fit considering that both Affleck and Lehane (who also penned “Mystic River”) hail from Beantown and are steeped in the rough and tumble culture of South Boston.

          Affleck’s baby brother Casey (“Jesse James”) stars as crack private investigator Patrick Kenzie, who assumes a professional and personal relationship with partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan).

          The pair is reluctantly drawn into a local missing child case when the girl’s distraught aunt (the excellent Amy Madigan) approaches them for help in locating her niece.

          In true Lehane fashion there’s ugliness under the neighborhood’s sturdy veneer. The missing girl is the product of an unstable mother (Amy Ryan as Helene McReady) who’s far more interested in the source of her next fix than nurturing her fetching 4-year old.

          Gennaro balks as the duo uncovers unsettling evidence of emotional abuse and police corruption at the hands of case Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris). Fissures open to chasms with unsettling alacrity.

          I’m a huge fan of Lehane’s moody novels and their bleak, no prisoners tone. Affleck shows particular care in maintaining that gritty, brutal style so imperative to the genre. “Gone” is grim, scratching the grime from the cracks while managing homage to the people and places on the underbelly of the Freedom Trail.

          Class struggles and character arcs flow with novelistic caricature; the emblematic self-absorption of Helene’s trashy coke-whore, law enforcement’s skeptical indifference and Gennaro’s sweet, idealistic values.

          Baby Affleck walks the walk and talks the talk of South Boston, his gentle manner and fresh-faced appeal belying a tough-as-nails core. As he navigates a bewildering labyrinth of lies his visage looks increasingly haunted.

          Ultimately questions of morality go murky and the narrative a touch hammy, emphasizing Affleck’s newbie directorial status. It’s all pulled back into sharp focus with the addition of a gut-wrenching climax, an unnecessary but effective exclamation point to a gritty expose of the shady shards of right and wrong.