gone baby gone (2007)

Gone Baby Gone, the flick that is being championed by everybody and their brother this year as the front-runner in the race toward the Best Picture oscar. Well, surprise, critical buzz ain't always what it's cracked up to be and the movie turns out to be kind of "meh". Gone Baby Gone is a pretty good flick, but not even close to being a great one, I cut it some slack seeing as how it's a directorial debut and seeing as how that director happens to be none other than Ben Affleck, who surprisingly knows what he's doing. This one starts out great, then starts to suck, but finishes great again for a real hit and miss experience. Let's discuss.

One thing I'll note before we get down to it with the film itself is that this film marks a definite shift in thinking for film studios over what constitutes "oscar bait" and I couldn't be more pleased with the results. Finally, a film going for an oscar is expected to raise, and not necessarily answer, questions on morality and humanity instead of being "a heartwarming film! that will make you believe again!", you know exactly what I'm talking about. No more are audiences and academy voters simply looking for a film to tug at their heart strings, bring them to tears or feature "powerhouse" actors screaming at each other just to win awards. Gone Baby Gone features a bit of that, and that's mostly where it fails, but what it's really all about is raising questions in the mind of the viewer and geting them to introspectively think for a little bit. One can only hope this trend continues. My only concern with this film it's that it is far too self conscious in trying to fit into this new oscar contender vein by doing what feels like a mash-up of Mystic River and The Departed, and not being as good as either of those films. Affleck tells this story best by soaking up the atmosphere of the streets. We're instantly put into a world where Hollywood glamour is the last thing on any of the actors' minds. These people look real, right down to the high number of insanely overweight extras he chooses. We believe it all from the start, this neighborhood feels real, these cops feel real, the danger feels real. Realism, however, is not the film's primary aim (or at least, it's not what I found most interesting), the aim here is to give us a tale with a coda of moral conundrum. By the end of this film, we in the audience are extremely conflicted and unsettled with the outcome of the events. However, not nearly as much as we could have been. Affleck makes the big mistake of trying to feed just a little bit of an answer and an enormous chunk of extraneous plot details and twists. Who cares who set up who, when the day is over it's the moral implications that are important, and for the most part Affleck knows it. The film begins slow and steady, giving us the basics and not much else. Affleck's visual style works, and albeit not being inventive in the least, it gets the job done. Things start to heat up, and for a brief mid-section, the film shows some real brilliance. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown our director can't help but toss in one or two "here's my dilemma" style voiceovers for his main character. They're not enough to be a cool noir homage, they're not poetic enough to be very affecting, they're mostly just to recap and/or set-up the plot for anyone who ran out for more popcorn. Also, more annoyingly, as the plot twists start to come out, they're given to us in flashing "Jason Bourne" style flashbacks and they're pretty damn annoying. There was a point in the film where I absolutely hated it and was ready to give it a pretty low grade. However, and very thankfully, the film bounces back with its former power in the last legs of this race to give us a satisfying conclusion. 

I'll take this time to applaud the work that Affleck has done, I really never would have thought he had a coherent, let alone watchable, film in him. Here, he proves me wrong. For a directorial debut, this thing shows some real promise and I don't say that lightly. As a film in its own respects, however, it comes awfully close to failing. I'm continually speaking about the big questions this thing raises and the big moral implications involved in its chain of events, but to be honest, it plays it safe a little too often by trying to lineate certain characters. This is a film in which there is no right or wrong, no one is good or bad, everything is in shades of gray, but still characters have entire scenes meant to contradict this gray area and give us some kind of foothold on them morally. Also, Affleck tries to bring in something or other about the church and the morality given to us by it but never has the time to really take it anywhere. Unfortunate, but honestly, I could have done without the mention and just stuck to the morality of the Boston streets. The cinematography has a few nice things to be said about it, and alot of scenes are simply shot in close-up and master shots for sitting around a table dialogue, so Afleck never really allows it to soar except in a few scenes where we're taken above or outside of the city. The scene on the rooftop looks great, but Affleck would have been wise to stage it somewhere else, seeing as how this thing already calls The Departed to mind on numerous occasions, we didn't need to be reminded again. Or maybe that's all part of the oscar plan. This thing is seriously right up the academy's alley as of late, they should eat this thing up with nominations come January, but I don't see it being good enough to win. I'm predicting that it won't seeing as how they rarely do the same "type" of film two years in a row, not to mention this thing is nowhere near the best this year has to offer. Still, I wouldn't necessarily mind seeing it given a few nods. Casey Affleck does a very nice job in the lead role and I'm assuming he'll be receiving even more accolades for his performance. He holds the film together for the most part, so bravo. Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman and Michelle Monaghan also turn in great performances. Maybe that's what bugged me about this thing was that it was more or less an actors showcase with huge moral questions at the center. As a whole though it just comes up lacking. Oh well, for what it's worth, this thing is worth checking out on DVD. 

So yeah, I wouldn't recommend running to your theater, I wouldn't even recommend going out of your way. But, if you're looking to stay in touch with the oscar picks for this season, you'll do just that and have a pretty enjoyable time. Other than that, wait for DVD and pick this one out on NetFlix. It's worth watching if just for the pondering experience and having a real chance to gauge your own reactions to what's being presented on the screen. As I said, the final shot makes up for aa lot of the film's shortcomings with its poignancy. In fact, it may be the final shot that saves the movie. It's that final shot that makes it certified. So, hey, it's no masterpiece, but it's got a lot going for it.

5