The fourth book featuring Lehane’s recurring private investigators, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), “Gone Baby Gone” covers a lot of well-trod ground it’s getting impossible not to in crime fiction but as with most things the devil is in the details. “How do you live in this world, and still be good enough to go to heaven,” Kenzie wonders, and Lehane and the Affleck brothers spend the rest of the film trying to figure that out. The result is absolutely gripping.
Hired by a grieving aunt to find a missing child, Kenzie and Gennaro soon find themselves in a classic twisty crime plot, as lies are uncovered, motivations change, and the bedrock of their world becomes quicksand under their feet. But what really makes “Gone Baby Gone” work is how surprisingly little attention it gives its plot (though it is by no means simple), instead focusing on its characters, particularly Kenzie, and how they feel about everything they’re experiencing. This is Affleck’s (Casey, that is) film, there are no two ways about it, even when sharing a large amount of time with Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, and he carries it with style and charisma. Kenzie is soulful, hurt, wounded, skeptical, guilty, shameful, brave, honest and true, all at the same time and in Affleck’s hands it all seems completely real.
Like all of Lehane’s books, “Gone Baby Gone” is set in Boston, and director Affleck brings his world to life as surely as Casey does with his character. Affleck’s Boston is no stylized land of gangsters and psychopaths, but a more disturbing real hometown, filled with all the foibles human beings are born with. He never overplays his hand, always letting the characters and words speak for themselves without any need to twist the knife. Kenzie’s raid on a house, looking for a wanted pedophile, is probably the high point of the film, and both Afflecks pull it off with style.
The downside of focusing so heavily on Kenzie, however, is that most of the other characters are not given a great deal to do. Michelle Monaghan’s Gennaro stands in the back a lot, not saying much at all when she’s on screen, and Freeman’s screen time is unfortunately brief. It wouldn’t be so bad if Gennaro wasn’t supposed to be so obviously crucial to Kenzie’s moral dilemma, but she is, and her lack of presence does hurt the film a little. The plot also meanders quite a bit in the middle, focusing more on the character’s inner turmoil than the outside world, before coming round in the end, and impatient viewers might find themselves squirming waiting for something to happen. Rest assured though, “Gone Baby Gone” more than rewards a patient viewer.
A tense meditation on morality in the modern world, “Gone Baby Gone” is a superb crime thriller featuring a star performance from Casey Affleck. If crime drama is your thing, it really doesn’t get much better than this.