Gone Baby Gone

This film may be getting a better reaction than it deserves - even from me - because, let's face it, with Ben Affleck making his directorial debut, the automatic reaction is that it's going to stink. And because it doesn't stink - not at all, in fact - having one's expectations surpassed might make Gone Baby Gone a great movie in some eyes.

Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone stars Affleck's more talented brother Casey as baby-faced private eye Patrick Kenzie, whose job is to find missing persons with his girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Liv Tyler lookalike Michelle Monaghan) around the slummy neighborhood of Dorchester, outside of Boston. A high-profile case involving a missing child ropes Patrick and Angie into the hunt for the girl and her abductor, and of course the story takes its twists and turns from there, as any good film noir should.

Playing like a strong early episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, only with more cussing and a rough Boston milieu, Gone Baby Gone satisfies, especially when it takes its story a little further past the point of mere revelation and into the realm of murky moral choices and the aftermath of same.

Ben Affleck captures the gritty - even filthy - side of his native Boston quite well (much better, in fact, than New Yorker Martin Scorsese did with The Departed, in my opinion - and the faces and accents are more authentic too), brother Casey is fine, and while well-known costars Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris do well, the real scene-stealer is Amy Ryan as the abducted girl's white trash drug addict mom. She's a revelation.

All in all, Gone Baby Gone is fine movie. Among the many films being released nowadays that call themselves throwbacks to the '70s era of American filmmaking, this is one that actually can truthfully make the claim. If Ben Affleck stays behind the camera and continues to make movies this good, then that will be better for all of us.