In Gone Baby Gone, Casey Affleck plays Patrick, a private eye hired by distraught relatives to find a missing little girl. It’s a local thing: Patrick is bred and brined in the same piss and vinegar of working-class Boston as the girl’s boozy, druggy wreck of a mother, Helene (The Wire‘s Amy Ryan, going hell for leather in a fearless performance). So Patrick (and his partner, played by Michelle Monaghan) understand the ties and lies of neighborhoods that bind — or ought to. But of course, nothing is ever simple — not in the morally murky Beantown thriller from Dennis Lehane on which the movie is based (Lehane went on to write Mystic River), nor in the character complexities favored by Ed Harris (here as a detective) and Morgan Freeman (as a police captain).
Certainly nothing’s simple in the professional arc of Boston local Ben Affleck, making his directorial debut from a screenplay he co-wrote with Aaron Stockard. As a filmmaker, Affleck is in a coltish stage; his characters veer toward speechiness, and in mixing in so many shots of real Boston faces and places, he leans on found authenticity as a crutch to support what he can’t yet shape on his own. But in emulating the best — Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Martin Scorsese’s The Departed — Affleck the director shows excellent instincts, not least of which is letting his younger brother, Casey, hold the center as a young guy not as smaht as he thinks he is. B-