Ben Affleck's impressive directorial debut boasts a star-studded cast and an intricate plot
Gone Baby Gone movie

Gone Baby Gone

Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan
Written by: Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockard
Director: Ben Affleck
Rated: R

Grade: A-

Those in doubt of Ben Affleck's artistic talent might be surprised when they see his impressive directorial debut, the Boston crime thriller Gone Baby Gone. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are private detectives who investigate missing-persons cases. A family hires them to find their kidnapped niece, a case that will fundamentally change their lives and shake their personalities to the core.

The story starts off as a typical investigation plot, with the information in each scene systematically giving way to the next step. But the success of Gone Baby Gone depends on three elements. First off, Patrick is the ideal protagonist: a hero capable of overcoming obstacles no one else could surpass. Every challenge makes him wiser, and he emerges victorious from situations in which anyone else would fail.

Second, the developments of the plot have a tangible effect on the characters' psychologies, which allows them to grow and evolve organically. Each scene's discovery is reflected through the characters' decisions in the following scene. This builds to a level of complexity that renders them fully alive in the eyes of the audience, who has witnessed their growth from the onset. Although Patrick and Angie become predictable in the final scenes, it's mainly because we get to know them so well that we can predict their thoughts. Likewise, the plot's final twist borders on the ridiculous, but the dramatic consequences Patrick and Angie suffer are sincere and compelling.

The third successful element of the film is its extremely talented cast. Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, who play two police officers in charge of the investigation, give enormous depth to their unique characters. And the real surprise is Amy Ryan, who portrays Helene McCready. Even though she portrays an irresponsible, drug-addicted mother who carelessly loses her daughter, she manages to win the audience's sympathy and affection.

On the other hand, Affleck can't always keep a steady hand on the direction. For instance, it violates film conventions when the movie suddenly shows us a critical scene without Patrick in it; the audience previously only had access to information as Patrick went about discovering it. But this is only a minor fault in what is an impressive directorial debut from Affleck.