Release Date: February 12, 2008
Rating: 3 ½/5 ½
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan and Titus Welliver
Based upon the novel by Dennis Lehane
Screenplay by: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard
Directed by: Ben Affleck
Gone Baby Gone is the first major directorial work of Ben Affleck, working through issues and terrain very close to him personally. Like Mystic River, this film is based on a fairly charged book by Dennis Lehane about criminal doings in the poorer neighbourhoods of Boston. The story follows a pair of private detectives (played by Affleck and Monaghan) who try to help the local police find a missing 4 year old girl, only to find that things are not always what they seem. As with Mystic River, the emphasis here is not on the mystery itself but more on the impact of each of the characters’ choices. There is a real running debate that goes through this film over the idea of trying to do the right thing, and the definition of what the “right” thing to do really is. I’m being deliberately vague here to avoid spoiling the film for you, but once you see the film, my comments should make sense. Affleck is actually quite restrained as a director here – there are the occasional helicopter shots or bravado moments, but much of this film really takes place in small rooms between a few people. (Given the lower budget of the film, this is no surprise – a large part of the budget must have gone to the authentic Boston location shooting.) Also to his credit, Affleck doesn’t try to prettify the story or the neighbourhoods, opting instead to cast locals for both speaking and background roles, which leads to a much more authentic feel. Is this the strongest film of last year? No, but it does pack a pretty good punch as it works its way to its conclusion. And the nomination of Amy Ryan as the missing girl’s drugged-out mom for an Academy Award was clearly the right thing to do.
VIDEO QUALITY: 4/5
Gone Baby Gone is presented in a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that reveals deep blacks in the nighttime photography and shows off a surprising amount of detail in the close-ups. Not only are the flesh-tones accurate, but many additional details are revealed, from wrinkles and age spots on the cast to the zonked-out eyes of the local actress playing Amy Ryan’s best friend Dotty. For a standard definition transfer, this one is a pleasure to watch.
AUDIO QUALITY: 3 ½/5 ½
Gone Baby Gone is presented in an English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that delivers dialogue in the front channels and music to the rear. However, when the bullets start to fly, the mix becomes truly immersive and directional. This is another mix to be careful with the volume control. Many dialogue sequences tend to be a little quieter, but when things go bad in the film, they also get really loud. There is one exception where the sound drops out other than music for the first few moments of a battle, but the gunshots come back within seconds.
SPECIAL FEATURES: 3 ½/5 ½
Gone Baby Gone comes with a respectable amount of extra features, the most important of which is a scene-specific commentary by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard. A few minutes of deleted scenes are also included in non-anamorphic format, with optional commentary by Affleck and Stockard. And there are two brief anamorphic featurettes covering the casting of the film and providing a quick look behind the scenes. The deleted scenes and both featurettes contain MAJOR SPOILERS, so I strongly recommend not watching them until after you have seen the film.
Feature Commentary with Director/Writer Ben Affleck and Writer Aaron Stockard – This scene-specific commentary is actually more informative than the quick featurettes. Affleck and Stockard offer observations both about what they were bringing to the project and how the scenes were conceived and shot. There are some gaps, but this is a very helpful track which definitely goes beyond the usual back-patting or mutual admiration material.
Deleted Scenes – (17:03 Total, Non-anamorphic) - MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: DON’T WATCH THESE UNTIL AFTER SEEING THE FILM - A series of deleted scenes are presented in non-anamorphic format, with optional commentary by Affleck and Stockard explaining why each bit was cut. There is an extended alternate opening designed to more clearly explain what the detectives do, with a new sequence of them chasing down someone on another case. There are extended conversations and a love scene between Affleck and Monaghan as well. A crucial action sequence here has additional contribution by Casey Affleck that in retrospect, was unnecessary. Finally, even Ben Affleck admits in his commentary here that the “thought-provoking” alternate ending is actually just a matter of two shots cut back in, and a bit of voiceover at the end that he realized was unnecessary.
Going Home: Behind the Scenes with Ben Affleck (7:03, Anamorphic) – MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: DON’T WATCH THIS UNTIL AFTER SEEING THE FILM – A fairly quick anamorphic rundown of the production of this film is intercut with interviews with both Afflecks, Monaghan, Harris, Freeman, Ryan and others. It’s pretty fluffy stuff, to be honest.
Capturing Authenticity: Casting Gone Baby Gone (8:55, Anamorphic) – MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: DON’T WATCH THIS UNTIL AFTER SEEING THE FILM – This featurette focuses on the casting of the film, primarily relying on the major players in the film for comment, but including some discussion and input by the locals cast on the shoot, especially the local roughnecks in an early bar scene.
Sneak Peeks – (9:26, Anamorphic) – Anamorphic trailers for three other films are included here, along with an anamorphic trailer for Blu-ray titles. No Country for Old Men, Dan in Real Life and Becoming Jane are included here, and all four sneak peaks are individually accessible.
Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French on the feature film, with a surprise bonus that the commentary also has a subtitle track in all three languages. The deleted scenes and featurettes just have an English subtitle available. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference. When the disc is first put in the machine, a series of previews play, starting with a windowboxed anti-smoking ad, followed by the same anamorphic trailers of No Country for Old Men, Dan in Real Life and the Blu-ray trailer that can be accessed via the Sneak Peeks menu. The anti-smoking ad is only accessible when you first load the disc, and the Becoming Jane trailer is only accessible via the Sneak Peeks menu.
There is one other issue I should address here. While I could play this disc through multiple DVD players at home, I was unable to play it on a Sony laptop running Windows Vista. So I’d like to put a query out the readers – is there anyone else who has had this issue? Is it a Vista conflict? I’m open to all input if someone can give me an answer on this one, as I don’t have it yet.
IN THE END...
Gone Baby Gone is an effective mystery drama on a pretty small scale that delivers both solid performances and a strong sense of storytelling from Ben Affleck’s direction. As I said, the point here isn’t so much the twists and turns of the mystery but rather the the people involved and the choices they make. It’s not as much of a depth charge as Mystic River, but it does pack its own punch.
February 10, 2007.