Most people probably know Ben Affleck as the hunk in "Armageddon" or That Guy Who Dated J-Lo, so the idea that he could direct a movie would seem as ludicrous as a three-headed cow. That he could direct a decent movie would seem even more laughable. And yet here we are.
That "Gone Baby Gone" bears a lot of similarities to the Oscar-winning "Mystic River" is because it's based on a book by the same author. Both stories take place in a working-class Boston neighborhood where a crime against a child is committed. Whereas "Mystic River" was about the rape of a teenaged girl, "Gone Baby Gone" is about the disappearance of a young girl.
The police are baffled at little Amanda McCready's abduction, so the girl's aunt goes to private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, Ben's brother. Gee, that must have been a real tough audition.) Kenzie and his girlfriend/partner visit some of the local dives, working over neighborhood residents. They find out Amanda's mother was a cokehead who along with her boyfriend stole some money from a drug lord.
From there everything gets complicated and I don't want to spoil any of the plot twists. Suffice it to say things are not all they seem and that in his quest to find the little girl, Kenzie is going to make new enemies and lose some friends too.
The end forces Kenzie into a great moral quandry, which I can't really say anything about without spoiling the plot. It's the kind of decision I'd certainly hope never to have to make. It's really this moral quandry that helps separate "Gone Baby Gone" from "Mystic River" which was more about revenge. And while Casey Affleck isn't Sean Penn, or even his brother Ben, he does well enough in the role. It helps to have a great supporting cast in Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris as cops looking into the abduction.
Since I'm not a director or really a student of the art there's nothing I can fault Affleck's direction for. The most I can say is that other than the scene at the quarry there was no time when I really had to think about the direction. And really the choppiness of the quarry scene I think was intentional to show the confusion involved. The only real complaint I'd make with the script Affleck co-wrote because it doesn't really go into the motivations for the characters enough, except for Freeman's police captain. I was curious why Kenzie was a private investigator and why Ed Harris' character acts the way he does, but there wasn't enough background for me to really understand all that. But I suppose that would have taken the movie past two hours, which would have made it too long for the studio.
Anyway, this film convinced me that if the acting thing doesn't work out, Ben Affleck can always go on to be a director, following the Ron Howard career model I suppose. For people who only know him from Us Weekly that's probably really surprising, but if you followed his career from Kevin Smith movies like "Mallrats" and "Chasing Amy" not to mention the movie he won a writing Oscar for--"Good Will Hunting"--it's far less so.
So check this out on DVD or one of the movie channels if you get them. It's a good mystery story, especially if you liked "Mystic River."
That is all.
(My score: 3/4 stars)
(Metacritic score: 72)