GONE BABY GONE directed by Ben Affleck, written by Affleck and Aaron Stockard from the novel by Dennis Lehane, with Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. 117 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (October 19). Rating: NNNN
Ben Affleck's comeback continues. Following his acting prize from the Venice Film Festival last year for his rueful turn as George Reeves in Hollywoodland, he makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of Dennis Lehane's Gone Baby Gone, the story of a Boston private investigator involved in a child abduction case.
Affleck, playing it very cagey on his first film, follows Clint Eastwood's template for translating Lehane to the screen: do a fairly close adaptation, shoot it in Boston and use Morgan Freeman. Aware of what's at stake in terms of his post-J.Lo career, the 35-year-old Affleck has made a film as if he were 70.
It works for the material. Lehane is a classical mystery writer with deep roots in an old community (Boston Irish). The narrative architecture lends itself to the ominous and deliberate pacing that Eastwood brought to Mystic River and Affleck brings to Gone Baby Gone.
He's surrounded himself with top- drawer talent. Cinematographer John Toll won back-to-back Oscars for Braveheart and Legends Of The Fall, and the cast works, even down to the tiny roles. It should never be a surprise when an actor turns out to be a good director of actors - and good actors generally have a strong story sense.
Casey Affleck stars as a small-time private investigator who does missing persons cases. When a child is abducted, her aunt (Amy Madigan) engages him and his partner (Michelle Monaghan) to help with the police investigation.
The police - mostly Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris on a very short fuse and John Ashton, who's apparently been stored in a box since Beverly Hills Cop III - aren't that impressed by this interloper's youth.
Nothing, of course, is what it seems. The one criticism I'd make is that the multiple-twist ending of Lehane's novel seems almost mechanical here. Affleck's script lays it out very clearly, so everyone catches the story turns, whereas the story is really less important than the way the hero damns himself by doing what he absolutely believes is the right thing.
Casey Affleck is having one hell of a year. First, he and Scott Caan stole Ocean's Thirteen with their strange Mexican subplot. Then his reviews matched Brad Pitt's in The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. And now he's given a terrific performance in Gone Baby Gone.
If you liked Mystic River, you'll like Gone Baby Gone. It may not have quite as many Oscar clips as the Eastwood film gave Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, but Ed Harris, the film's obvious Oscar nominee, has a couple of beauties.