Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

2007, US, directed by Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck may have grown up in a more genteel part of town, but on the evidence of his fine debut film, he gets Boston's less affluent corners. His film is steeped in the often unsubtle lines of class and race that divide the city, and that make it a striking patchwork of unrelated communities that nonetheless live cheek-by-jowl. Inward-looking neighbourhoods are at the heart of the action, in which Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is hired to supplement a police investigation that has apparently been stymied by a lack of local cooperation. In order to make any headway, Kenzie has to stray off his own personal map of the city, and into bars and streets where he, too, is unwelcome. To some extent, the film does try to have it both ways, however, implying that the locals are somehow stunted in their stubborn resistance to outside interference, and then doing much to imply that their suspicions are well-founded.

The obvious cinematic reference points are Clint Eastwood's 2003 Mystic River, based, like this film, on a Dennis Lehane novel, and Martin Scorsese's The Departed. Gone Baby Gone emerges as the strongest of the three, lacking both the overly earnest tone of Eastwood's film, and the overwrought stylings of late-period Scorsese. In particular, it restores much of the gallows humour that Eastwood leached from Boston's streets, robbing his film of much authenticity in the process. It also benefits from a low-key cast, with Casey Affleck strong in the lead role: the slow aging of his very youthful face as the film progresses mirrors the central theme whereby good people are soured, perhaps irretrievably, by the moral compromises in which they find themselves participating. The older Affleck, for his part, adopts an unshowy visual style, focused on telling a compelling story rather on directorial tics; there's something almost old-fashioned about his consciously simple shot choices, a kind of contemporary invisible style.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States