Monday, October 26, 2009
Gone Baby Gone
It's standard practice in Hollywood to mock Ben Affleck. He and his pal Matt Damon got famous at the same time for writing Good Will Hunting, and both have worked in successful movies with ensemble casts, Affleck most notably in Shakespeare In Love and Damon in the Ocean's Eleven series, but when it comes to being the name above the title guy, Damon can point to The Bourne Identity and the sequels and Affleck is stuck with Gigli.
Here's something Ben Affleck has done that Matt Damon has yet to do. He's directed a really good film.
Gone Baby Gone is an adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane. Lehane also wrote Mystic River, which was turned into a movie by director Clint Eastwood. While he sets most of his own novels in the Boston area, Lehane wrote three scripts for the HBO series The Wire, which is set in Baltimore.
Ben Affleck does not star in Gone Baby Gone. The lead role is played by Ben's brother Casey, who fits the part better because he's not as tall and physically intimidating. Casey plays a private investigator based in the Dorchester neighborhood, and in several scenes he has to prove to people who underestimate him that he is indeed a tough guy from a tough neighborhood.
The story does a good job of explaining why a private investigator would be preferable to the cops. A private eye knows scumbags, and the scumbags will talk to him, while they won't talk to the police. The story revolves around a missing little girl. The aunt and uncle of the girl, who live in the same two family house, hire the male-female detective team, played by Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, to augment the search. Besides Affeck and Monaghan, the other actors who get their names in big type are Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris, who play cops assigned to the case.
The family of the missing girl are the most recognizable actors not given the star treatment. The aunt and uncle are played by Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver, while the mother is played by my latest adopted actor Amy Ryan. Madigan is the veteran of this trio, her career on film starting about ten years earlier than the other two, her best known role now probably being her work on Grey's Anatomy, but she has been in major roles since she played Kevin Costner's wife in Field of Dreams. Welliver may be best known as Silas Adams in Deadwood. Amy Ryan's best known work was already discussed in an earlier post.
Amy Ryan usually plays characters for whom the audience will easily feel sympathy, but not so in Gone Baby Gone. She's an unfit mother and she feels very little guilt about it, and the guilt she does feel she sublimates by drinking heavily. It may have been this work against typecasting that garnered her an Academy Award nomination and won her several critics' circle prizes.
I liked the movie a lot. It aims for the level of reality The Wire was able to maintain for five seasons. Of course, in reality people don't say quite so many clever or funny or revealing things as movie characters do, and our stories here in the real world don't always have such well defined arcs or moments of complete resolution.
Ben Affleck deserves praise for making such a good film in his directorial debut. Instead, in Hollywood, he more likely gets blamed for making a movie that only grossed $20 million in domestic box office.
Poor Ben just can't catch a break. Except... he is married to Jennifer Garner and avoided being married to Jennifer Lopez, who seems much more high maintenance than Garner to this outsider's view. Sound like two pretty good breaks to me.