widescreen – Get Gone Baby Gone

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With all the bluster, buzz and Oscar-mugging associated with films this time of year, it would be easy to think that the one associated with Ben Affleck would be the first to be ignored.

After all, there are plenty of movies with plenty of Academy Award-winning actors and actresses populating local theaters. Why bother with the one directed by the guy who committed Gigli, right? Wrong. If there is one movie to see this fall, it is Ben Afflecks Gone Baby Gone.

Based on the book of the same name written by “Mystic Rivers” Dennis Lehane, Gone opens with a little girls kidnapping. Bostons Dorchester District awakes one morning to the news that little 4-year-old Amanda McCready has been abducted from the safety of her home.

While the police, led by a determined Capt. Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), canvass the neighborhood for clues, Amandas family hires private eye Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his associate Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to track down information from Dorchesters seedier side.

Hesitant, Gennaro cedes to Kenzies desire to help, and the two begin their own investigation. They quickly uncover that Helene (Amy Ryan), Amandas mother, is anything but saintly.

With the help of detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), Kenzie pursues a lead concerning a local drug lord. But at a late-night exchange the investigation quickly spirals out of control, and Kenzie finds himself struggling to make sure that he, too, does not end up gone baby, gone.

Marking his directorial debut, Ben Affleck keeps the Gone simmering at a slow burn, never hurrying or sensationalizing the plot or its implications.

Bostons flavor permeates the story through the actors (mostly authentic) thick accents, and cityscape and street-level cut scenes showing blue-collar side of Boston. At times those shots are profusely overused, and, when coupled with Caseys voice-over, feel like a YMCA or Boys and Girls Club commercial.

Alas, this is a minor gripe, one that pales to the elder Afflecks otherwise fantastic direction. Having co-written the screenplay, Affleck is keyed to the storys dramatic power. He invokes a character-level perspective to the story that adds interest to what would otherwise be a standard kidnapping story. And, more important, Affleck does so while commanding some of the finest performances to date.

Casey breaks out of the awkward shell into which he is so often cast a role he nailed in The Assassination of Jesse James with a powerfully assertive performance that states with a zest of meta that he is unequivocally in control.

Monaghans performance is stripped down, compelling. Freeman is intense. But it is Harris who absolutely chills his performance lit with pure character and not the hopeful glint of some golden statue.

Admittedly, the plot gets a little convoluted at times, retaining, perhaps too much, literary merit from the book itself. But Affleck keeps the focus where it should be on the characters.

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