After recently watching Ben Affleck’s ‘The Town’ and enjoying it immensely, I thought I would go back in time and watch his feature-length directorial debut, ‘Gone Baby Gone’. With an all-star cast (including Affleck’s kid brother, Casey) and an intriguing plot that promised to be right up my street, I had extremely high hopes for this crime-thriller and it certainly delivered on all fronts.

When a little girl goes missing, two small-time Boston detectives, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), are employed by the girl’s family to explore her disappearance, against the advice of police chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). After meeting the family, Patrick and Angie begin to think that there is more to the girl’s disappearance than they are being led to believe, with their suspicions aroused by the disagreeable behaviour of the girl’s mother, Helene McCready (Amy Ryan). With help from another detective duo, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), Patrick must solve the case of the girl’s disappearance before she is lost forever.

Ben Affleck’s affinity for filming in Boston is evident here, years before ‘The Town’, and it was interesting to see Affleck build his narrative around the less fortunate people of Boston. As with many films based around a disappearance, the community aspect is integral to a film appearing authentic and it was expertly done here. The focus on realism is also important in that respect, and in many ways I see these two films from Affleck as being the American equivalents of that gritty, British realist scene that I’ve enjoyed for so many years. Actually, gritty would be a bit of an understatement for ‘Gone Baby Gone’, as the film delves deep into the dark world of crime-lords, drug dealers, addicts and paedophiles making it a difficult watch at times.

Thankfully, the plot was really engaging and well-written, keeping my attention at all times despite my aversion to the seedier elements on screen. The film appeared to reach a conclusion after about 40 minutes, and I was really intrigued as to where the narrative was going to go from there, but it managed to keep the impressive pace up and flowed seamlessly through to the film’s actual conclusion, which was full of twists along the way. Without committing the cardinal sin and giving away spoilers, the film’s conclusion invoked a real internal debate in me as I thought about the morals and the importance of right and wrong. It’s hard to explain why without giving the game away, so if and when you get around to seeing this film, hopefully you’ll know what I mean.

I talked about the importance of authenticity in a film like this, and the acting performances certainly help in that regard. This is the first Ben Affleck film I’ve seen where he hasn’t been the main man on screen too (unlike Argo, The Town), but here we have the next best thing with his brother taking the limelight. Casey was impressive in the lead role, portraying a ruthless streak that I enjoyed as well as perfectly encapsulating that pesky moral dilemma that I mentioned earlier. Ed Harris is also very convincing as bad-cop Remy Bressant, but the star of the show for me was Amy Ryan. I have only ever seen her in ‘The U.S Office’ – as the geeky and goofy Holly Flax – so I was astonished by her transformation into a crack-addicted, foul mouthed, sorry excuse for a mother. It’s a mutation similar to that of Blake Lively in ‘The Town’, and it appears that Ben Affleck really has a knack for turning TV’s golden girls into drug-addled offenders.

I’ve said before that Ben Affleck is a guy I can’t really figure out; do I like him or not? On this evidence, it seems my reservations have been misplaced all along, at least when it comes to his directorial talents. This is another superb film from a very talented director and writer, and I now can’t wait for his upcoming directorial outings in ‘Live By Night’ and an as of yet untitled Batman film. I still have some niggling reservations about his onscreen work – hopefully ‘Batman vs Superman’ will remedy that – but ‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a wonderfully crafted film for which Aflleck deserves the highest of praise.

Rating: 8.3/10

Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan