GONE BABY GONE (Ben Affleck, 2007)

Casey Affleck, as reliably a good actor as brother Ben is not, stars as Patrick Kenzie, a South Boston private detective investigating the disappearance of 4-year-old Amanda McCready, along with his (in every sense) partner, Angie Gennaro. Like Clint Eastwood’s misanthropic Mystic River (2003), Gone Baby Gone is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane; first-timer Ben Affleck directs from a script by himself and Aaron Stockard. As with Eastwood’s monstrosity, the story is preposterous, full of contrived twists, turns and backtracks, and pseudo-psychological. Human nature apparently isn’t an interest on Lehane’s plate.
     In the year of the dumbest thriller ever made, David Fincher’s Zodiac, however, Affleck’s film looks pretty sharp by comparison. The best acting comes from Morgan Freeman as police captain Jack Doyle of the missing-children division, whose early retirement is forced by the disastrous outcome of the McCready case. Beneath his mask of self-righteousness, Doyle is morally warped by the intolerable burden of the violent long-ago loss of his own child. This is one of those contrived roles that requires the character itself to be an unlikely good actor, and the contrivance keeps Freeman from giving an authentic performance; but what Freeman is able to do with the role mesmerizes.
     The ending thoughtfully presents a psychosocial conundrum. Passing no judgment but inspiring consideration, the convoluted mystery’s upshot is remarkable. En route to it, though, most of the shots are “off” and inarticulate. Filmmaker Affleck is not quite competent yet.
     His is a trickier, even more muddled thriller than Michael Clayton (also 2007), and also a messier because more humane one. Tony Gilroy’s film is mildly intriguing, mildly suspenseful; Gone Baby Gone, by contrast, burns with suspense.
     Considerable mumbling by actors, and the accents, caused me to miss one-third of the dialogue.

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