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Movie Review: Gone, Baby, Gone

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I’ve been a fan of Dennis Lehane’s private eye novels about Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro for years. I keep wishing Lehane would write another book about them. Instead, he’s written a couple of stand-alone books, one which became a movie (Mystic River) and one that will become a movie (Shutter Island).

Gone, Baby, Gone stands out not only as the first Kenzie/Gennaro book to become a film, but is also Ben Affleck’s first turn as a director. His brother Casey (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) stars as Patrick Kenzie.

Both the Afflecks grew up in Boston, and the choice to use Lehane’s background for the series, Dorchester, was a no-brainer. Ben Affleck, when drawn to the project, stated that he wanted to make that microcosm of Boston come to life on the screen, and he used several people from the neighborhood in roles. In my opinion, he succeeds admirably. The background has a unique feel and rhythm to it that he couldn’t have gotten while shooting somewhere else.

Another thing that really rings true is the language. The dialogue is coarse and explosive, the way it tends to be in crowded metropolitan areas. And no matter where you put them, areas of cities that are in disrepair always stand out and offer their own views of the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small town or a large town, people tend to be desperate, trapped, and unhappy while living there. Since they’re not strong enough, mobile enough, or brave enough to take on people outside their neighborhood, the bad ones tend to prey on people inside the local environment.

I liked the motivation for Patrick and Angie to get involved, the fact that Patrick knew the mother whose child was kidnapped. They’d gone to high school together, and no one gets out of high school without a history and usually scars to show for it. Angie is reluctant to get involved with the case because she doesn’t want to find a dead kid, which is how things like this normally work out.

If you’ve only watched the movie, you should really read the book as well. Patrick and Angie’s relationship means a lot to the book series, and in particular to this novel. The movie can’t pull in all the history or the emotional angst that is in the pages of the novel. There’s just not enough room.

Patrick’s investigation immediately puts him in harm’s way between the police and the bad guys – which is exactly how a private eye story should operate. The PI is always the man or woman outside of the world that needs to be investigated. In this case, Patrick belongs to that world but he’s stepped outside certain aspects of it.

Although I knew the story and what was going to happen, it was great seeing Ben Affleck’s vision of it and Casey Affleck’s portrayal of Patrick. The city seems almost to close in on the viewer, especially during the scenes where Bubba leads Patrick to the house where the kidnapped boy is being held by drug addicts and a child molester.

Ed Harris turns in a fantastic performance as Remy Bressard. I love watching Harris work anyway, but seeing him in this role was a pleasure. Morgan Freeman, solid as ever, wasn’t given much to do, but he always shines. Michelle Monaghan plays Angie Gennaro, but the focus is so much on Patrick that she almost gets eclipsed in everything. She’s so strong, though, that she seizes moments and makes them her own.

I really enjoyed this film. I liked the look and the pacing, though some people may find it a little slow in places. I was just glad to see this world come to life, and I think Ben Affleck did a marvelous job of doing that. Hopefully other novels in the series will be developed as well.

The plot twists and turns, but by the time everything gets sorted, there are hard choices to be made. The great thing is that the viewer is forced to make those choices as well. The subject matter is powerful and moving.

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