Ben Affleck’s directorial debut suffers from what most actor-turned-director films suffer from: it’s a parade of actors. Yet it prides itself on its commitment to the real people of the Boston neighborhood in which it is shot. In that sense, it is not so much a parade of actors as it is a parade of people.
Affleck has, I think with a certain sense of awareness, made a film that is as much an anthropological study of Boston, as it is a Hollywood-produced entertainment.
Therein lies the trouble with Gone Baby Gone. It is at its heart an independent feature, a film committed to real problems and real people and real life. But at the same time it relies too heavily on the plotting of the story, making sure the audience is always on board with the narrative thrust. Which is unfortunate because the movie works best when it’s sort of free-falling through scenes.
When a little kid rides by on his bike and tells detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) to “go fuck his mother” for no particular reason, it’s a moment of pure realism that has nothing to do with the story, but highlights the charm of the city’s character. Or when Affleck’s detective hangs out with a high school pal turned neighborhood crime boss we see an easy chemistry emerge, which is wholly at odds with the overly plotted nature of the film. Spoon-feeding the audience plot this way comes uncomfortably close to outright condescension.
And the thing is, the plot that is relied on and explored and delved into so thoroughly is the clumsiest aspect of the production. It feels forced, uncomfortable, distracting. It is precisely the non-narrative moments where Ben excels as a director. The staging of a botched siege on a local pedophile’s home is a bravura action sequence. As is a phony exchange for the kidnapped kid that is set along the ridge of a reservoir. Affleck uses the darkness and shadows and slices of light to build a sequence that is most effective when dialogue is not there to ruin it. Whether he knows it or not, Affleck has a cinematic eye that suffers because of his allegiance to actors, and his desire to let them talk, and talk, and talk, and…
The special features on the DVD are pretty standard. Behind the scenes featurettes where the cast pat each other on the back and Ben pats the cast and crew on the back and the crew pats no one on the back because who wants to talk to a grip?
Other features, including the commentary tracks, focus on how Ben and everyone involved strived to make things feel “real” and “authentic”. Much praise is given to novelist Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), who wrote the book.