There must be something in the water in Hollywood this fall, because out of the four pictures I've seen (3:10 to Yuma, Into the Wild, Michael Clayton, and now Gone, Baby, Gone), there's not a bad one in the bunch. Sure, they all have their flaws, but that's what makes filmmaking so interesting as an art form.
So I refrained from writing a full review of Dennis Lehane's novel until I had seen the movie. I wanted to really explore the idea (in my head) of how a movie adaptation might work or not work. Gone, Baby, Gone seems, at first glance, to be a strange book to start with, considering it's one of the middle books in Lehane's series centering on Dorchester-native and private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). But in the end, I think it was a good choice, although I haven't read the others, if only for its utterly current storyline and setting.
In this particular story, Patrick and Angie are called upon to help find a missing neighbourhood girl after she's taken one night from her mother's apartment. The mother, a drug addict and terrible mother, is forced into a sort of reckoning for her lifestyle by her older brother and his wife, who are the ones who actually hire Patrick and Angie. From the beginning, something's just not right with the case, whether it's the involvement of the cops, how the girl disappeared, or the story behind the story that starts to unravel the deeper Patrick and Angie get into it.
The film does an excellent job of streamlining the complex plot for a theatre audience. While plot details are tightened up, the film remains contextually in tact, despite its extreme complexity, which always doesn't translate easily to the big screen. Affleck pays homage to noir films before him, but sometimes, he takes the elements a bit too far (although not to the crazy degree found in last year's similar noir-influenced The Black Dhalia). Yet, despite the film's few shortcomings, it remains tight, riveting and well-acted throughout.
If I have one complaint, it's that the character of Angie becomes so very secondary in the film. She really doesn't have a lot to do, she stands beside Patrick, asks a couple of questions, and has one pivotal moment that they took directly from the novel. Yet, in the book she's complex, troubled, and deeply confused about elements of the case. The movie, I guess to keep it clear on Patrick, turns her into a truly supporting character, a partner in name only, and much less the strong, tough woman in Lehane's narrative.
But the film's got amazing art direction that brings the setting to life, fabulous performances by character actors like Amy Madigan and Ed Harris, and Deadwood's Titus Welliver and The Wire's Amy Ryan, and Casey Affleck, who brings a heart to the film that Lehane's controlled style and hard-hitting language doesn't always reflect. Affleck's deft hand behind the camera and with the script show real talent and promise. And that's a sentence I never thought I'd write, let alone think. He took everything he could from the book, changed what he needed to, remained faithful to the rest, and created a film that's poignant, aching, bright, and honestly worthy of praise.