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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Modern Masterpieces #2: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

When you think of talented actors turned directors who do you think of? Clint Easwood? Definitely. Sean Penn? Sure. Dennis Hopper? Love him! Tim Robbins? Oh yes! Ben Affleck? Erm… Ben ‘you’re the bomb in Phantoms’ Affleck? Granted it may be too soon to bracket the lad as a great director, but if his debut Gone Baby Gone is a sign of his abilities then there is a talent here waiting to explode. Having already established himself as a Oscar-quality writer with Good Will Hunting, it took him a decade to write again. It was a frenzied decade with, critically panned, box office successes and the infamous ‘Beniffer’ period that gave us Gigli… there was also Surviving Christmas… ouch.

Now, I’m a fan of Affleck the actor, more so his 90’s output with Kevin Smith than his blockbuster movies that’s he’s better known for and who doesn’t love the magic of Good Will Hunting? But I didn’t know what to expect from him as a director, who would he have been influenced most by during his career? Would it be pal Kevin Smith, the reflectiveness of Gus Van Sant? or the more gun-ho aesthetics of Michael Bay? It seems to me neither, but more so his encounter with workmen directors such as Joe Chappelle and Allen Coulter, whose work on HBO’s The Wire and The Sopranos are sterling, that have influenced him most as a director. And for which, all should cheer.

Casey Affleck plays Patrick Mackenzie, a private investigator who works with his girlfriend and business partner, Angie (Michelle Monaghan). When they see a local news report regarding the disappearance of 8 year-old Amanda McCready their heart goes out to her mother, Helene (Amy Ryan). Soon after they are visited by Amanda’s aunt and uncle who ask them to help the police with the investigation; hesitant at first, they eventually agree to aide the police; much to the annoyance of the detectives assigned to the case. As the investigation progresses, secrets that should have been buried are revealed and Patrick and Angie find themselves way in over their heads as their relationship is stretched to breaking point and their lives are thrown into jeopardy as they descend into a hellish nightmare and humanities dark underbelly.

With Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck has delivered a brilliant mystery thriller and one of modern cinema’s finest noirs. It may not be trench coat, fedora and rain-soaked alleyway noir that people normally associate with the genre but the core staples of distrust, betrayal and abuse of power are rampant throughout the film. It’s this dark streak that binds the film that impresses most, Affleck isn’t afraid of alienating his audience by showing us the darkest side of human nature in all its morbid glory and having his characters carry out despicable acts all in the name of ‘doing the right thing’.

This selfishness that runs riff through the film could further alienate audiences, if it weren’t for the incredible cast Affleck has assembled. Little brother Casey really shows his worth here, shedding his younger image that saw him in cheese like Soul Survivors and American Pie and revealing a true acting talent in the making. Amy Ryan gives an Oscar nominated performance as Helene McCready, it’s a role that relies on an actress of exceptional talent and luckily Ryan is just that – exceptional. To single out a performance is impossible however, each character is as memorable as the next and the people playing them deliver their best; which shows that Ben Affleck is not just a great writer, but also a promising director to watch. The confidence he displays over every facet of the film here is impressive and makes you wonder how good he’ll be once he has a few more films under his belt?

Gone Baby Gone was unfortunate, due to the nature of the film the last thing distributors were going to do is release movie about child abduction while the United Kingdom is in disarray over the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. The film was in full PR swing when the news of the abduction hit, which resulted in all subsequent promotion of the film stopping immediately. The film was then delayed and quickly released months later with no hype or promotion to go with it, as such the film failed to make an impact at the box-office. It was also overlooked come Oscar season, but it remains one of the most powerful directorial debuts of the last decade.

Gone Baby Gone is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD now!

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