Gone Baby Gone (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers notices that it's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
A four year old child named Amanda McCready disappears from her home. When Boston police make struggle in solving the case, the girl's aunt Beatrice reached out to two private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The relatively amateur detective couple find themselves in over their heads, but bring knowledge of the neighbourhood to the case that the cops cannot touch. As they’re welcomed into the fold the case becomes increasingly complicated.
I’d like to go on record now, several months after the fact, to say I’ve always liked Ben Affleck—I just dislike most of the films he’s been a part of. In interviews and on audio commentary tracks he’s always struck me as a genuinely smart and funny guy, and his eventual directorial success does not surprise me in the slightest. We know the guy can write, or co-write if you will, and he’s worked with as large a diversity of directors as anyone his age. Assuming he was as bright as I thought he was his absorption of director abilities over the years just seemed kind of inevitable.
Other actors turned good directors, like Eastwood or Clooney, really push the theatrics—snazzy camera angles, flashy colours (or lack of colours), zippy set pieces, and so forth. Affleck avoids theatrics for the most part, depending instead on authenticity and actors. Thanks to the public history of Good Will Hunting we know that Affleck was the real deal lower middle class Bostonite, and Gone Baby Gone exhibits his sense of real Boston people, the way they talk, and the places they live. Affleck tosses in a few swishy helicopter shots and some touchy-feely fades, but overall it’s about serving the story, which of course Affleck had a hand in creating (he co-authored the script).
This patient authenticity is augmented by not only the actors’ performances, but Affleck’s willingness to allow them to speak without words. Too often characters in movies that profuse to be realistic over-chat their feelings to camera (the first lesson of filmmaking is show, don’t tell), but these characters internalize their emotions, and Affleck and co-scripter Aaron Stockard have enough faith to let the actors emote with body language. Gone Baby Gone is an actor’s movie, and had Ben Affleck not been at the centre of the Bennifer debacle we probably wouldn’t even be talking about the director, and that’s one of the better compliments a critic can give the guy.
It’s not all roses, Gone Baby Gone has the same sappy streak the last Dennis Lehane adaptation, Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, suffered. I was very disappointed in Mystic River for reasons I haven’t ever been able to put my finger on completely, but most of it had to do with the film’s maudlin sense of morals and emotional pretence. Gone Baby Gone doesn’t ever tell us specifically what to feel, but it also doesn’t leave too much room for standing back.
I’ve never read Lehane (remember, I’m more or less illiterate), but the obvious differences between the film versions of these two books is the drive, even though the themes are more or less identical. Mystic River sets up the dominos to fall to one scene, whereas Gone Baby Gone rolls like a real life event, complete with a false ending that leads to the film’s most unexpected and satisfying moments. In the end I’m surprised to say that Affleck seems better equipped to explore Lehane’s morally ambiguous themes then a real pro like Eastwood, who let his director’s hands get a little too heavy.
I tried to get a Blu-ray copy of Gone Baby Gone, but it’s kind of tricky to get Blu-ray discs from BVHE. Anyway, this standard DVD, anamorphically presented at a ratio of 1.85:1, doesn’t look too bad all on its own, with sharp details, fine, textured grain, and natural colours. Compression noise is very minimal, though some of the warmer auburns have issues with consistency. Some darker scenes appear too dark, and foregrounds and backgrounds blend somewhat ineffectively, but overall contrast effective, insuring bright whites and deep blacks. There is some edge enhancement and artefacting, but nothing too overwhelming.
The one element of the film that often feels too maudlin is the music, which isn’t bad or poorly executed, but often very obvious. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is minimalist for the vast majority of the film’s runtime, depending mostly on the throbby and sad-sap score for fill the surround channels. There aren’t a lot of sound effects or ambient textures, so the well centred and clean dialogue tracks reigns supreme for most of the track. Around the one hour mark things get a little more lively, bassy, and poppy, though I won’t go into specifics to avoid spoilers.
I decided I liked Ben Affleck based on his joyous additions to Kevin Smith commentary tracks. I understand that Gone Baby Gone is not a Kevin Smith movie, and perhaps a super energetic and laugh a minute commentary track would be out of place, but is it too much to ask for a little joy Ben? This commentary, featuring Affleck and co-writer Stockard, is so hushed one gets the impression that it’s been recorded in the middle of the night, and the neighbours have already banged on the wall a few times. The commentators don’t share much of a rapport, leave a lot of empty space, and more or less sound entirely uncomfortable in their own skin. There’s some information to be gleaned, but the tone is so desperately serious it’s kind of a drag.
The extra light disc features two featurettes. ‘Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck’ is a total puff piece and an obvious EPK. The featurette only lasts seven minutes and spends most of its time gently caressing Ben Affleck. There are some points to the film’s social aims and greater meanings, but it’s only scratched. ‘Capturing Authenticity’ starts self-explanatory, but really turns into another softball featurette about the actors and casting process. It is a smashing cast, no doubt, but this just over seven minute piece doesn’t really do much to pay homage to them.
Six deleted scenes follow the fluff, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, and each with an Affleck and Stockard commentary track too boot. These include a slightly different opening sequence, a conversation between Affleck and Monaghan about the cycle of abuse, a sweet love scene, another abuse conversation, an alternate version of the ‘rescue’ scene, and an alternate version of the same ending. The commentary isn’t too lively, but Affleck is pretty good at explaining his deletion reasoning concisely, and to his credit a lot of the scenes were deleted to avoid heavy handedness. These scenes last about seventeen minutes.
Gone Baby Gone is a realistic and very well acted slice of East Coast Americana, and one of 2007’s better films. I have a feeling it will end up forgotten in another five years or so, but it’s worth the early discovery and worth two hours of your time. The extra features are all rather weak, but the A/V is solid, and I doubt a re-release is on the horizon any time soon. Hopefully we’ll find Ben Affleck behind the camera again sometime soon so we can know this successful first run wasn’t some kind of fluke.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 12th February 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Spanish, Dolby Digital 2.0 French
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Deleted and Extended Scenes, Two Featurettes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 114 minutes
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