Monday, 20 April 2009

“Gone Baby Gone”. A Review of the 2008 Film on Blu Ray.

“ …I Always Think That Life Is About The Choices You ‘Don’t’ Make…”

There's a moment about 5 minutes into "Gone Baby Gone" when you think you might just have stumbled on a genuine masterpiece...

As Casey Affleck ruminates in a weary beaten-up voiceover about good and evil and the life choices we make and how neighbourhoods shape us as people and those choices, the camera pans across the locals he’s talking about and their Boston inner city terrain.

These are real people in the real world – all manner of faces, colours and creeds - just going about their business – a man sat on the steps of a tenement building having a midday cigarette – kids of 8 and 9 flipping open their mobile phones – murals on walls declaring all sorts – a white father plops his baseball cap on the head of his gorgeous son of one who giggles, while a black father positions his equally gorgeous older son on the baseball circle in the local park with a sense of pride – all of it eventually making its way to a media circus outside a suburban home and a picture of a 9-year old girl on a tree…

The opening minutes are full of these beautifully realised vignettes - the use of real Bostonians and their downmarket suburbs adding a reality and power to Gone Baby Gone that is simply stunning – and that gritty reality continues throughout the film. And when you learn that the director is pretty boy Ben Affleck whom everyone loves to hate – you’re more than impressed.

But then of course it all goes to mush when the frankly ludicrously cherubic face of Casey Affleck appears with his equally drippy girlfriend Michelle Monaghan (an amazingly dull part for her) in tow beside him – they’re the leads? We’re expected to believe these dweebs?? While Casey is good in parts, he’s out of his depth in others – and worse - a lot of the time you feel he’s literally going to burst into a fit of the giggles at any moment. Monaghan is fabulous expressively as an actress, but her character Angie is a bit weedy and therefore difficult to care about – Angie seems almost superfluous to requirements (she was more fleshed out in the book).

But then you ask yourself why did top quality actors like Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris get involved in this movie – and the answer is the truly fabulous script adapted by Aaron Stockard from Denis Lehane’s book of the same name. This is “Mystic River” territory - Lehane has worked in child abuse and abduction cases and knows his monsters and their families so well that his observations of them hurt you – literally. There are many scenes in this excellent film where I found myself tearful – and not always for the grotesque things that Miramax must show you about pervs and their ways – but for the humanity of the other people involved – an emotion that seems all too often missing from other films about this easy-to-exploit subject. Ben Affleck has imbibed his debut with genuine heart even if the story does go off the rails a bit towards the end.

Given real meat to work with, the large varied cast is uniformly brilliant right down to even the smallest part - and just when you think you’ve seen all that Harris and Freeman have to give – they floor you – both of them - adding a gravitas throughout that must have had the older Affleck tingling in his Director’s chair. John Ashton is superb too as Ed Harris’ sidekick and Titus Welliver as the child’s father Lionel who may or may not be a nice guy. And Edi Gathegi as the Haitian drug-dealer Cheese is wonderfully sinister as a man with less than enlightened views about women - especially ones who need his powder to get through their day.

But the big surprise is Amy Ryan (Oscar nominated) who plays the devious trailer-trash druggy mum Helen McCready whose daughter Amanda is the girl pictured everywhere and abducted. You hate her and yet empathise with her in equal measure – and you wonder (like Affleck’s character does) should a 9-year old girl be back with this train wreck of a person - or does Helen McCready deserve a second chance at life like everyone else? And who makes that decision?

The Blu Ray print is surprisingly bad – speckled and blurry in the indoor and night scenes and hardly revelatory anywhere else. Also 2 of the special features cavalierly give away far too much of the plot and the twists – so don’t watch either before you see the movie. Also of note is David Buckley’s tenderly evocative music, which gives many of the down and up scenes a hugely powerful lift.

Despite being just a few notches short in places, “Gone Baby Gone” is a superb film – a genuine sleeper from 2008 - and Ben Affleck has arrived as a Director - big time.

I was moved, confused, hurt and left thinking about difficult decisions.

Highly recommended.

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