The Bigger Picture: Gone Baby Gone is a crucial turning point for two Affleck brothers from Beantown. Casey Affleck's superb and sophisticated lead performance ought, finally, to catapult him onto Hollywood's A-list. And big brother Ben's serious filmmaker cred—long buried beneath a pile of tabloids and poor acting choices—deserves to be resurrected. Their combined efforts have created a thoughtful meditation on self-administered justice and the labyrinthine nature of morality.
In the blue-collar 'burbs of southern Boston, a little girl has gone missing. The media hype surrounding her case is cynical and sensational, with live-at-five reporters interviewing overweight women with tattooed bellies on their front lawns—and then cutting to sports highlights. Watching all of this from his modest apartment is small-time private detective Patrick Kenzie (Affleck).
Though Kenzie and his live-in girlfriend and business partner usually specialize in hunting down credit card deadbeats, the aunt of the missing girl shows up on their doorstep to hire Kenzie. The girl's desperate, coke-addicted mother isn't complying with the cops, and the earnest aunt wants to hire Kenzie to "augment" the investigation; she knows that he is "from the neighborhood." Good move, as Southie local Kenzie successfully unearths information from tweakers and dealers that was originally withheld from the cops. In their feverish hunt for the missing child, Kenzie and the hard-boiled Boston P.D. use ugly tactics, leaving themselves—and the audience—to question how far is "too far" when a child's life is on the line?
The story takes unpredictable and rousing turns, and to say more would be to give away too much. But like any good noir, it leaves the main characters struggling to escape from their own moral morass.
The film's warmth radiates from Casey's performance, and much of what makes him so fantastic is how unlike Ben he is. Endowed with Affleckian good looks, he doesn't seem to know it. His performance, a flawless ensemble, complex themes, tight pacing and a poignant surprise ending make Gone Baby Gone an honest to God instant classic.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Much of what works in Gone Baby Gone can also be found in The Departed. The charm of the Boston underclass, the ambiguity between cops and criminals on the streets; even the climax on a Boston rooftop may feel redundant. And while Ben Affleck is a very good director, his style lacks the seasoned veneer of pulp masters such as Martin Scorsese.