Here's my full review from The American Conservative:
With The Sopranos wrapped up, there's a general feeling that the Italian mafia has finally been exhausted as grist for movies and TV. What
needs now is a new favorite crime-prone immigrant group, of which there is no shortage of candidates. Hollywood
, the more dismal murders -- such as one teenager shooting another over graffiti-tagging rights to an alley -- are committed mostly by the usual suspects. In contrast, the colorful capers that Quentin Tarantino or the Coen Brothers would find cool, the seemingly brilliant schemes that somehow go awry and end in a bloodbath, are perpetrated mostly by white newcomers from either the Middle East or the ex-Soviet Los Angeles Union: Armenians, Israelis, Persians, and the like.
seems instead to be falling in love with an ethnic group that has been here even longer than the Italians: the Irish. Working class white Hollywood Boston, where killings, while rare, frequently remain unsolved, has been the setting for the recent Oscar-winners "The Departed" and " ." Mystic River
Now, failed leading man Ben Affleck (perhaps most notorious for bombing in "Pearl Harbor"), who won a screenwriting Oscar a decade ago with his best friend Matt Damon for their movie about a Boston prole, "Good Will Hunting," has returned to his roots. He has co-adapted and directed "Gone Baby Gone," a detective thriller by
Mystic Rivernovelist Dennis Lehane set in Boston's grimy Dorchesterneighborhood.
Dorchesteris not exactly Ben's roots. He, personally, was born in Berkeley, Californiaand was raised in Cambridge, which is just like Dorchester, if Dorchesterwere home to Harvard and MIT. Like Damon and so many other younger stars, Affleck is from the artsy-lefty upper middle class. (The clearest exception to this trend is Dorchester-born ex-thug Mark Wahlberg, who was electrifying in "The Departed.")
This modestly-budgeted film noir about neighborhood private eye Patrick Kenzie trying to unravel the kidnapping of the four-year-old daughter of a cocaine addict single mom hinges, like "The Maltese Falcon," on the snoop's devotion to his profession's ethics. Affleck's direction is a bit choppy and the plot eventually becomes either bafflingly complex or nonsensical, but the overall impact is strong. "Gone Baby Gone" is hardly "The Departed," but it's more watchable than "
." Mystic River
Affleck assembled a fine cast, with old reliables Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") and Ed Harris (astronaut John Glenn in "The Right Stuff") as the cops. The role of the detective's girlfriend / partner doesn't make much sense (this is the fourth novel in Lehane's series, so presumably their implausible relationship was explained earlier), but it provides Affleck an excuse to point the camera at the most adorable starlet of the moment, Michelle Monaghan ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang").
As the private eye, Affleck cast his own younger brother, making this the second straight movie starring Casey Affleck that I've reviewed (he also played "the Coward Robert Ford" in "The Assassination of Jesse James"), and that's plenty.
Film noir detectives have traditionally been world-weary types, such as Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum, but Casey, a small youngster with a pinched baby-face, looks like he's trying detective work because he's not sure he's mature enough yet for law school. Casey is perfectly fine in both films, possibly because he gets a lot of real life practice at the main demand of these roles: acting peeved and perturbed when nobody takes him seriously.
Casey is also the brother-in-law of Ben's wife Jennifer Garner (Alias) and his own wife's brother Joaquin Phoenix ("Walk the Line"). Would he be starring in movies without all these connections? Golden Age
was intensely nepotistic in the executive suites, but the modern industry is more nepotistic in the above-the-line jobs, because power has migrated from the head office to whomever is raising the money. Ben Affleck's famous name was responsible for scraping together the $19 million for "Gone Baby Gone," so he got to cast his baby brother. Hollywood
Hollywoodnepotism is seldom fatal to films, because its beneficiaries, like Casey Affleck, are almost all at least competent. Why? Let's do the numbers. If, say, one percent of all adult Americans have the natural talent to be a movie star, director, or screenwriter, and maybe ten percent of them try to make it in the business, well, that's still 200,000 people to choose among! So, among that qualified 0.1 percent, it's whom you know that counts.
Rated R for violence, drug content, and pervasive language.