"We don't know why people do what they do. Everyone looks out his own window."
Ben Affleck, whose jovial, frat boy personality has made him one of the most entertaining actors to ever do a DVD audio commentary, has certainly taken a few hits when it comes to his career choices ("Gigli", for one - and "Phantoms" rocks, too.) However, many were surprised when Affleck turned his focus towards directing, and his debut is "Gone Baby Gone", based upon the Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River") novel. While expectations from many were probably low, Affleck has managed to turn in one of the year's best films. This may be his debut, but this seems like the effort of someone who has been behind the camera for years.
The film focuses on Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, the director's brother, whose acting continues to improve) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), a couple who work as investigators. They watch the news story of a young girl who's been kidnapped, then are surprised to see the grandparents of the girl - Lionel and Beatrice McCready (Titus Welliver and Amy Madigan) - appear at their doorstep, asking for help. While they protest that they are only experienced in trying to find small-time crooks, the two grandparents say that their addition to the case couldn't hurt matters.
While the grandparents are desperate, the two private detectives run into roadblocks with just about everyone else, from the child's drug-addicted mother, Helene (Amy Ryan) to the police chief (Morgan Freeman) to the cops working the case (Ed Harris and John Ashton). The amateur investigators find their own clues, as do the police, but where the trail leads becomes increasingly dark, as Helene's tragic choices lead the investigators down a dangerous path.
The picture sees Affleck surrounding himself with a terrific crew, including Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll ("The Thin Red Line"). The result is a movie that's utterly haunting visually, and Affleck's portrayal of the backstreets of his former hometown is moody and - at times - hellish, a set of mean streets whose boundaries seem to know no end. This is a grim, grim picture, make no mistake about it - but it is also a riveting one; an excellent, excellent mystery that keeps twisting till the end (and it's pretty tight at under 2 hours - no fat on this film.)
The performances are absolutely fantastic, and really one of the many reasons this stands out as an engaging picture. Casey Affleck has always been a decent actor, but here he truly stands out in a commanding performance, superbly portraying a man who is deeply changed by the end of this all. Harris, Freeman and Ryan also offer excellent supporting efforts. Monaghan, who's previously been okay in her other roles, gives her finest performance here, showing previously unseen depths of hurt and emotion.
This is simply a masterful film, deeply powerful and magnificently acted. It's hard, dark and saddening film, but a superbly acted one that also stands as an immensely impressive directorial debut from Ben Affleck.
VIDEO: "Gone Baby Gone" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a fantastic presentation of the picture, as the image appeared consistently crystal clear, with excellent sharpness and detail, as well as an impressive amount of fine details apparent in some scenes.
Some slight traces of edge enhancement were present in a few scenes, but the picture otherwise appeared crisp and clean, with no print flaws or other concerns. Colors looked appropriately muted, and flesh tones looked accurate and natural. Black level also remained strong throughout, as well.
SOUND: The film's audio is a mostly subdued affair, with limited use of the surrounds. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue and clear, punchy sound effects.
EXTRAS: Affleck and writer Aaron Stanford provide an audio commentary. Affleck is certainly more low-key than he has been in the past, but he and co-writer Stanford do go over the production in fine detail, discussing the development of the project, working with the actors, filming on location and much more. There's also 6 deleted scenes (which include an extended opening and ending) with commentary and two short featurettes: "Going Home" and "Capturing Authenticity".
Final Thoughts: Ben Affleck has managed a fine (although some may beg to differ) career as an actor, but I find it remarkable that his first film behind the camera is one of remarkable power and raw emotion - that, and that he's done it without it feeling like it's trying to be any other director's film but his own. The DVD boasts very good audio/video quality, as well as a few solid extras. Recommended.
The Film A