Gone Baby Gone ***

Posted: October 19, 2007

Ben Affleck isn't Clint Eastwood, and Gone Baby Gone isn't Mystic River, but give the actor-turned-director time - actor-turned-director Affleck, that is. Eastwood was 41 when he made his directing debut, Play Misty for Me. Affleck's a mere 35 as his assured first film rolls into theaters.

Adapted, like Eastwood's Mystic River, from a novel by Dennis Lehane, Gone Baby Gone is a scrappy little thriller set in some of Boston's less-picturesque precincts - boarded-up rowhouses, rundown corner bars, graffitied parks, broken glass, broken dreams. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Genarro (Michelle Monaghan) grew up here, and still live nearby. They're a twosome - they share an apartment, and they share a business: private investigators.

When a 4-year-old goes missing, and the cops seem stymied, Kenzie and Genarro are called in. He went to the same school as the abducted girl's mother (Amy Ryan), he knows the drug dealers and pedophiles in the neighborhood. Maybe Kenzie can get somewhere, with or without the help of the cops.

But Detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and his boss, Police Capt. Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), aren't exactly thrilled with the idea of sharing their case file with a baby-faced gumshoe and his pretty girlfriend. Kenzie and Genarro have to prove themselves to their clients, to the lowlifes on the corners, and to the cops.

With an ace cinematographer (Oscar-winner John Toll) at his side, director Affleck captures the streets of his hometown with dark-hued, gritty allure. And Ben's little brother, Casey, imbues his character with an authentic Beantown vibe: the cadences of his speech, the slant of his walk. The actor, who does wonders with the curious role of Robert Ford in the slo-mo western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, brings a sinewy determination to this Patrick Kenzie character. And Monaghan and Affleck work well together. Their relationship - a blue-collar Nick and Nora Charles, minus the dog and the breezy banter - feels real.

As the days drag on, some nasty discoveries are made. Lies are told, sordid histories revealed. Gone Baby Gone's plotlines gets trickier - too tricky, really - and the behavior of folks on all sides (cops, crooks, family, Patrick Kenzie) is called into question.

If the final twists and turns in Gone Baby Gone strain credulity, the performances of Affleck and Monaghan stay straight and true. Casey's big brother has made a tough, taut mystery.

Gone Baby Gone *** (Out of four stars)

Directed by Ben Affleck. With Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan and Amy Ryan. Distributed

by Miramax Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 55 mins.

Parent's guide: R (violence, profanity, drugs, sex, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters

Contact movie critic Steven Rea

at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.

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