A truly stellar directorial debut by Ben Affleck, this adaptation of the Dennis Lehane drama displays many similarities to Clint Eastwood’s more polished but less engaging take on Lehane’s “Mystic River”.
Affleck’s version is rawer and far more authentic in its portrait of Boston’s working-class neighborhoods. Yet, like Eastwood, he seems to have an innate understanding of the way a mystery novel should be translated for the screen in order to keep its essence intact.
Despite the child kidnap plot line, and a couple of very effective twists, this is far more of a contemplative thriller than an action-driven one. It asks us as an audience some quite tough moral questions and isn’t afraid to show that the right choice can often yield far worse consequences. ‘Baby’ engages one’s brain as well as one’s emotions, and whilst it takes a while to unfold – once it gets underway it gets more daring and fascinating with each minute.
Ben’s brother Casey plays the lead and is solid enough, as is a surprisingly dressed down Michelle Monaghan. Supporting roles however from Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are more compelling, whilst Amy Ryan gets the showiest role as the drug addict mother with a foul mouth and hard as nails bravado to hide a vulnerability that pops through on occasion.
The narrative is deceptively simple, its relaxed sense of pacing leads into events which are seen from completely different perspectives later on. There’s some predictable moments to be sure, but also some out of left-field surprises that perfectly fit and never offer easy solutions. In many ways the questions of who did it and why become perfunctory, this is much more an exploration of the fallout from not just the kidnap but its eventual solution.
It’s hard to find adult fare these days offering this much in the way of talking points and debate. It poses some real dilemmas both moral and ethical to which there are no clear solutions and good arguments for on both sides. Whilst his acting resume hasn’t proven mixed, ‘Gone’ demonstrates that behind the camera Affleck has the chops to become one of the greats.