The idea of Ben Affleck, director, might be a slightly worrying one - after all, even great actors usually make for bad directors - but with Gone Baby Gone Affleck signals that he might be able to pull off a career change. It doesn't hurt that he's working from a novel by Dennis Lehane, author of (amongst other things) Mystic River, who provides a twisty and morally ambiguous plot and a slew of complex characters for Affleck to work with. Set in Affleck's home town of Boston, the story begins with the disappearance of a four year-old girl. Local P.I. Patrick (played by Affleck's brother Casey) is asked to take on the case by the missing girl's aunt (Amy Madigan), and while it's a little out of his league he steps up to bat, receiving grudging help from local law enforcement (including Morgan Freeman as the local chief and Ed Harris as one of the detectives). But it doesn't take long for the case to take some dark turns, and considering that the missing girl's mum (Amy Ryan) is probably the last person you'd want to be in charge of a kid it's hardly surprising that this film's morality is hardly black and white. Affleck clearly knows the physical territory and his storytelling skills are in pretty good shape, but it's the many excellent performances that make this such a compelling (if bleak) film to watch. Casey Affleck, who was excellent in last year's The Assassination of Jesse James is just as good here, never letting us get fully comfortable with a character lesser films would leave as a simple audience stand-in. Great crime films are also explorations of human nature (even if only on the level of "why do people steal?"); thoughtful and thought-provoking while still managing to deliver plenty of crime thrills and chills, Affleck has made a great crime film here.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #423)