Confession time... I'm a closet Ben Affleck fan. Despite his seeming inability to choose smart roles for himself like his more successful BFF Matt Damon, Affleck has maintained enough smarmy charm and grin-inducing swagger over the years to keep me entertained. Since winning an Oscar for co-writing 'Good Will Hunting' ten years ago, I've often wondered why Affleck has only continued to throw himself in front of the camera. As such, I was eager to check out his first major directorial effort, 'Gone Baby Gone.' I knew this one would either help him find a new place in the biz, or get added to the pile of mediocre films he’s left in his wake.
When a four year-old girl is kidnapped in Boston, her aunt (Amy Madigan) hires a pair of young private investigators to run an investigation in parallel to the official search. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is a feisty neighborhood face who knows how to get information from the locals, while his assistant, Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan), balances his gusto with her own cool temperament. The two encounter obstacles at every turn -- a pious police captain (Morgan Freeman)who considers them intrusive and undisciplined, a pair of detectives (Ed Harris and John Ashton) who think they're too inexperienced to help, and the girl’s mother (Amy Ryan), a drug-addled recluse torn between her love for her daughter and her own addictions. As they hone in on the people responsible for the girl's kidnapping, Patrick and Angie are dragged through an emotional grinder that leaves them with a seemingly impossible choice.
First things first, director Ben Affleck does an exceptional job behind the camera. He has the sure-handed steadiness of an industry pro, rarely taking a misstep throughout the course of the film as he layers 'Gone Baby Gone' with cold, detached characters that live in the midst of an otherwise decent city. It's easy to see his lingering nostalgia in the opening shots of Boston and its citizens, but he doesn't get distracted. His focus is quickly narrowed in on the people at the center of the kidnapping -- every nuance and tic is used to complicate his characters, imbuing them with layers of conflicting decency and questionable behavior. 'Gone Baby Gone' left me excited to see what the elder Affleck will direct next.
Ben's not the only Affleck delivering the goods here though. Casey Affleck adds yet another notch to his impressive resume (after receiving much deserved praise for his leading role in 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'), proving he's the brother that belongs in front of the camera. His quiet demeanor and explosive delivery not only make him a beam of light in the dark world of 'Gone Baby Gone,' they make him a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars. He's definitely an actor I'll be watching over the coming years, and one everyone should keep on their radar.
Best of all, the film ends with a gut wrenching moral quandary that left me reeling. I can honestly say I have no idea what choice I would have made if placed in Kenzie's position. The final shot may leave some viewers shaking their fists at the screen, but I thought it was the only ending a film like 'Gone Baby Gone' could have, leaving its viewers with a glimpse at the unavoidable disparity between law and logic in any justice system.
If I had any problem with 'Gone Baby Gone,' it's that the script’s twists showed their hand a bit too early. As a result, I often found myself one step ahead of the characters, piecing together crucial information before it was revealed. Knowing glances, strange expressions, and small fidgets gave away ulterior motives and hints that there was more to the story than meets the eye. Still, the plot is so intricately constructed that this minor issue didn't bother me nearly as much as it has in other films.
'Gone Baby Gone' is a first-rate drama that hinges on its characters, rather than on the twists and turns of its story. While I'm still contemplating Kenzie’s ultimate choice, its buildup and presentation is nothing short of masterful. In the end, the film's impact and mystery are realized in the viewer's thoughtful reflections on the questions posed to them.
'Gone Baby Gone' is presented with a naturalistic 1080p/VC-1 transfer that does a good job recreating the theatrical experience. The drab palette is doused with blue and silver, but colors are bold and vibrant. Contrast is dead on, deepening the image and giving it a three dimensional quality that brings backstreet Boston to life on the screen. Blacks are inky, detail is impressive for such a dreary film, and there isn't a hint of source noise to be found. For all of the dark scenes showcased in the film, the transfer isn't plagued by artifacting or regular losses in clarity. Daylight scenes are a bit soft compared to the best transfers on the high-def market, but it's a direct result of the film stock, rather than the technical attributes of the encode.
I do have a few technical nitpicks, but they're relatively minor. First of all, blacks tend to bunch up and crush, leaving many details lost in the shadows. It doesn't help that uneven film grain spikes and invades the textures that remain. To top it off, I caught some unnecessary edge enhancement in a few shots where a dark foreground object was set against the faded sky. All things considered, 'Gone Baby Gone' still looks quite good and should satisfy fans of the film and videophiles alike.
'Gone Baby Gone' features a robust PCM 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/ 24-Bit/ 6.9 Mbps) that elevates the otherwise subdued audio mix to another level. I'm not often wowed by quiet tracks, but the sound designers have packed the rear channels with subtle ambient effects that create an immersive experience. As it stands, interior acoustics are convincing, pans are transparent, and accuracy is dead on. Better still, dialogue is clear and perfectly prioritized, and the more intense action beats ratchet up the tension with a striking blend of chaotic noise and pulsing music. The dynamics are rock solid as well, massaging significant LFE support into every element of the soundscape. Gun shots are especially realistic -- the hairs on the back of my neck popped up every time they rang out.
This quiet, conversation driven track may not be an operatic action mix, but this is what high-def audio is all about, expertly replicating the theatrical experience and delivering a thrilling mix that increases the effectiveness of the story itself.
The Blu-ray edition of 'Gone Baby Gone' includes all of the special features that appear on its standard DVD counterpart. There may not be a lot to dig through, but the video content is thankfully presented in high definition.
'Gone Baby Gone' may not have been nominated for Best Picture, but don't let that keep you away from this outstanding thriller. It packs some serious punch in its performances, story, and direction, and will leave you with a moral dilemma that isn't easy to resolve. The Blu-ray edition is an excellent addition to your library as well, featuring an admirable video transfer, a remarkable uncompressed PCM audio track, and a decent (albeit slim) collection of supplements. I think any serious cinema fanatic should give this excellent drama a shot.