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Rated 3.02 stars
by 726 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Dire Circumstances
by Diana Saenger

Earning high praise from critics and moviegoers alike, Gone Baby Gone says a lot about Ben Affleck's debut as a director and even more about his little brother Casey's acting abilities. Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel, this is a taut, fast-paced crime thriller that never brakes  for red lights.

Boyfriend and girlfriend Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are young private investigators in Boston who love their simple life and take on an occasional case to find a missing deadbeat dad or other non-life-threatening person. When four-year-old Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien) becomes a kidnap victim in their neighborhood, the girl's Aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) and Uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) seek Patrick and Angie's help. They don't think the cops are doing enough to find Amanda.

Hesitant at first, Angie tells Patrick she doesn't want to find a little dead girl in a trash bin. They pay Amanda's mother a visit and find Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) to be everything but a concerned mother mourning the loss of her child. She's a foul-mouthed drug addict with an apartment not fit for a child to be raised in. However, during one weak moment, Helene breaks down and makes Patrick promise to find her daughter.

There's a lot happening in this story as written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, but Affleck handles the direction superbly. The meaty cast also includes Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris. Freeman has little screen time as police captain Jack Doyle, who lost a child himself but sees the young investigators as interference in this case.

Harris excels as detective Remy Bressant, a confessed hater of anyone who hurts a child. Bressant also feels annoyed at having to share the case with Patrick and Angie, but once he realizes they understand the neighborhood and can communicate with the thugs who run it, he has no choice. An interesting aspect to Harris' character emerges here -- as Patrick can never quite figure out what really makes this detective tick. The way Harris projects that particular component of his role is a testament to his acting. 

Watching Gone Baby Gone seems much like entering a haunted house. The deeper you go, the more you want to get out. There's violence, pathetic characters as well as those who are not what they seem, and, of course, the emotional tug at the heart of an adorable missing child and the possibility that something unspeakable has happened to her.

Yet these are the exact elements Ben Affleck uses with amazing force to keep viewers glued to their seats, and -- surprisingly -- his best decision was to cast his own bother in the pivotal role. Casey has been inching his way up the acting chain for 17 years, and this year two movies clearly indicate he's going to be a contender. In

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he plays Robert Ford, who ended up killing one of the west's most brazen outlaws, Jessie James (Brad Pitt). Casey's understated and haunting portrayal of Ford stands as a monument in that quiet and poignant film.

In Gone Baby Gone, Casey is equally mesmerizing. According to Casey, he and Ben had several brotherly disagreements while filming, but the end product is as synergistic as two young boys licking the frosting bowl together. Patrick appears to be a one-trick pony, but behind that brooding and somber face, is a roulette wheel of thoughts and the guts to follow through with actions that could endanger his life.

Another surprising standout is Amy Ryan (Capote) who infuses her character with so many repulsive behaviors and attitudes, no one wants her to find her daughter.

Casey’s soft-toned voiceovers lead us gently into this story and keep us enthralled throughout with statements like: “When I was young, I asked my priest how you could get to heaven and still protect yourself from all the evil in the world. He told me what God said to his children: We are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.” 

Partly to due to John Toll's impressive cinematography as well, Gone Baby Gone continually winds us up like a top, waiting to be unspun, and even at the conclusion the movie excitedly teeters with reflection,  revelation and questioning about how we also might bend the truth when faced with such dire circumstances.

(Released by Miramax Films and rated “R” for violence, drug content, and pervasive language.)

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