After failing to find a satisfactory place for himself in Hollywood as an actor, Ben Affleck has moved behind the camera to helm "Gone Baby Gone," a film which would seem to have all the right elements for his directorial debut: It’s set in Affleck’s native Boston, the city that housed "Good Will Hunting," the film that won him a screenwriting Oscar; it’s an adaptation of a novel from Dennis Lehane, whose "Mystic River" was the basis of Clint Eastwood‘s (over)lauded 2003 film; it stars brother Casey, who happens to be having a pretty good year. And, to our mild surprise, it seems to have all come together, and the critics are fond. David Edelstein at New York, who does note that director Affleck’s "hand is often heavier than it needs to be," declares that the "actors are amazing" and that "Casey Affleck has never had a pedestal like the one his brother provides him, and he earns it." Roger Ebert deems the film "a superior police procedural, and something more — a study in devious human nature," particularly impressed by the way secrets are unfolded, "the way that certain clues are planted in plain view. We can see or hear them just fine. It’s that we don’t know they’re clues." "Affleck gets near-perfect performances from his actors," writes Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club. "Though its procedural goes a little soft in the middle, Gone Baby Gone quietly accumulates in power, leading to one of the more subtly devastating final shots in recent memory."
Nick Schager at Slant finds the supporting character line-up overstuffed with A-list actors, but still likes the way "Affleck’s film eventually laces its routine police procedural plot machinations with a taut and terrifying atmosphere of enveloping confusion, one in which the solutions to the hazards posed by such a world are insufficient, and in fact are often just as problematic as the threats themselves." "If Mr. Affleck hasnâ€™t raised his material to that rarefied level [of "Mystic River"]," writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times, "he has taken a satisfyingly tough look into conscience, to those dark places where some men also go astray." "As a filmmaker, Affleck is in a coltish stage; his characters veer toward speechiness, and in mixing in so many shots of real Boston faces and places, he leans on found authenticity as a crutch to support what he can’t yet shape on his own," notes an otherwise positive Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly.
Over at the Village Voice, Jim Ridley writes that "In his strikingly downbeat directorial debut, Affleck has created something of a blue-moon rarity: an American movie of genuine moral complexity." Counters Stephanie Zacharek at Salon:
The picture ends on an unsettling, unresolved note. The problem is, you walk away wondering why certain characters take action in a way they think is right, and then just step back lazily and allow the obvious terrible things — the things the rest of us can see coming — to happen. I believe this is supposed to be what passes for "moral complexity," but it doesn’t quite wash.
And our beloved Armond White, who’s on a real tear this week, awesomely condemns the film as "some unholy combination of The Departed and Mystic River" (are there harsher words?) and then rags on Casey Affleck:
I had hoped never to see Casey Affleck in another movie after his whiny turn in Jesse James/Robert Ford, now heâ€™s backâ€”no longer a retard but still whining, still sulky. And this time, heâ€™s morally superior to everyone else. This awful performance confirms the filmâ€™s pandering concept.