The Bread of Affleck-tion

Running Time 114 minutes
Written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by Ben Affleck
Starring Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris

At the movies, 10 months of junk are over and we’re moving into the 2007 homestretch with an avalanche of serious works so dour you’ll just want to kill yourself. Iraq is big, and so are abortion and the political follies of George W. Bush. But if there’s one hot-button issue that won’t go away, it’s child abuse and all the sub-themes of kidnapping, murder and twisted sexual deviancy that go with it. Gone Baby Gone is a bleak but often quite brilliant movie that encompasses the above and more. I guess Ben Affleck deserves an apology. After a lot of early humiliation, he was a political pundit to reckon with at the Democratic convention, and gave a sensational performance as ill-fated Superman star George Reeves in the grossly underrated Hollywoodland. Now he makes his debut as a director with this gritty, realistic crime drama set in the same ugly, blue-collar Boston neighborhood as Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River and based on another novel by the same author, Dennis Lehane. Mr. Affleck is laying the foundation, brick by brick, for a promising new career.

Fresh from his scene-stealing success as “the coward Bob Ford” in the Brad Pitt Jesse James movie, the director’s younger brother Casey Affleck stars as Patrick Kenzie, a young private eye investigating the kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl with his girlfriend and professional partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan). Plunged into the sewers of Beantown where the dialogue is filthier than the dumpsters, the couple encounter cretinous thugs, skags and scumbags who victimize children, and cops who will stop at nothing to punish a child molester even if it means planting evidence to frame them. The missing child’s mother is not so innocent, either; the terrific New York stage actress Amy Ryan is full of surprises as a trashy, cocaine-addicted single mom who works as a drug runner. Her distraught sister (Amy Madigan) is married to a man with the word “suspect” written all over him in guilty hues of sleaze. As the case proceeds, the body count multiplies, two seasoned cops (Ed Harris and John Ashton) turn out more sinister than the predators in their mug shots, and the police captain in charge of the Crimes Against Children unit (Morgan Freeman) resigns mysteriously. The ending provides enough voltage for the electric chair at Sing Sing, and Patrick makes a moral decision to uphold the law that destroys a number of lives, including his own. It’s the opposite of The Brave One, and a lot of people will hate it, for different but equally understandable reasons. It would be dastardly to say more, but I found it equally powerful and persuasive, thanks to Affleck’s attention to detail, a harrowingly realistic script and an inspired cast. A nasty, eccentric little treasure—and who would have thought Ben Affleck had it in him? The Bread of Affleck-tion