Monday, April 07, 2008

Gone Baby Gone: Grade B

Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan; Co-writer and director: Ben Affleck.

This crime drama has the look and feel of novelist Lehane’s earlier movie, Mystic River: Boston setting, working class neighborhood, exaggerated New England accents, missing child of a cop, police corruption, etc. It’s a rehash, but that doesn’t necessarily make it bad since the earlier movie was quite good. Ben Affleck is no Clint Eastwood, however. The directing in this movie is noticeably clunky. Characters walk like wooden puppets to their marks so they can announce their lines. The dialog is also artificial. Characters speak only clever, multi-layered declarations and make only deeply meaningful, pithy remarks. Nobody speaks normally. Does a working class detective who can barely mumble his lines really use the word, “ignominious” in casual conversation? All characters except Affleck's are two-dimensional. Characters are always posturing rather than being the ordinary people we are supposed to believe they are. To top off this television-like exaggeration is a swooping, panning, diving, zooming camera that is extremely distracting but which is the trademark of cheesy television drama. I am just not adapted to that syntax.

Casey Affleck carries this movie almost single handedly, despite the fact that he mumbles so badly that I missed about a quarter of his lines. He is a working class detective with his unlikely “partner” Monahagn who does nothing but tag along with him. He is searching for a missing toddler. That doesn’t sound terribly engaging, and it isn’t, so there are extensive shots of newspaper headlines and TV announcers waxing apoplectic over the incident. Again we are supposed to accept mass media, television-driven values of what counts as "major news." Freeman is the police chief who had his own daughter kidnapped and killed once, which gives him license to pontificate repeatedly about the importance of finding the little girl. Ed Harris is a police detective on the case, but his performance is so overdone that his character is a mere cardboard cutout. There are multiple surprise revelations, nearly all in the last 30 minutes. The movie is a slow starter, and there is an embedded segment about a missing boy – entirely different case – that should have been cut out. The saga of the missing girl ends, then ends again, then ends again, and it just won’t quit. This is clever writing at its worst, calling attention to its own cleverness so often that the story becomes implausible and you lose interest. I did, anyway.

There is a legitimate moral quandary at the climax point, framed rather suddenly as a whole line of unlikely twists and turns unfold. Casey Affleck’s performance is outstanding however and that alone raises this humdrum picture slightly above average.

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