December 24, 2007

"Gone Baby Gone"

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 Hollywood needs now is a new favorite crime-prone immigrant group, of which there is no shortage of candidates.

Here in Los Angeles, 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 Union: Armenians, Israelis, Persians, and the like.

Yet, Hollywood 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 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 River novelist Dennis Lehane set in Boston's grimy Dorchester neighborhood.

Well, Dorchester is not exactly Ben's roots. He, personally, was born in Berkeley, California and was raised in Cambridge, which is just like Dorchester, if Dorchester were 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 Hollywood 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.

Surprisingly, Hollywood nepotism 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.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

A very Merry Christmas to you Steve, and everybody else here! You have provided me with a lot of great reading material the past one year.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps not all the adequately talented 200,000 actually want to do it? Or does that question reveal my ignorance of America?

Anonymous said...

Steve -- Merry Christmas and thanks for all the entertaining/thought-provoking writing!

But I think you're dead wrong on the nepotistic angle.

Regression to the mean implies that the talent of someone related is no greater than the man off the street. I.E. Frank Stallone.

This is particularly disastrous in the writing department. So many movies are completely destroyed by a complete lack of knowledge of the lives of ordinary people. There is no way a second or third generation Hollywood writer can connect to ordinary people. And the expansion of nepotism with the "gay ghetto" that Ovitz remarked on makes it worse.

How can a gay man write anything other than a very marginally appealing movie? Since he can't understand the central dynamic that drives male-female relationships? He can't appeal to straight men, and lacks the knowledge to appeal to women (and certainly the interest).

If you don't like the stick-figure written female characters, and their portrayal by stick-figure women (looking at you Kiera Knightly) who can't act but can be quite anorexic, it's the expansion of nepotism to "life partners" etc. that has helped bring that state of affairs about.

Dermot Mulroney's brother, Kieran Mulroney, is writing "Justice League of America." That is a disaster waiting to happen. Unlike say, Peter Jackson with LoTR or Mark Steven Johnson with Daredevil or John Favreau with Iron Man, Mulroney got the nod based on nepotism, not an immersion in the source material and the vision to translate what worked there on screen in movie format.

So you have a hack, doing just another job, and making what could be an entertaining popcorn movie into garbage.

Nepotism means ordinary "entertainment" films generally are of poor quality, while "arty" films designed to win awards can't even do the basic job of a film -- entertain for a few hours.

Anonymous said...

All one needs to do is work for a production company or agency reading scripts from unrepresented writers, or sit through a casting session and watched endless numbers of great-looking people who can't summon a believable emotion to save their lives, to quickly disabuse oneself of the notion that there's some vast pool of creative acting and writing talent that just can't catch a break due to lack of connections. Ben Affleck's own Project Greenlight series provided a rather graphic demonstration of this over three seasons.

Anonymous said...

How can a gay man write anything other than a very marginally appealing movie? Since he can't understand the central dynamic that drives male-female relationships? He can't appeal to straight men, and lacks the knowledge to appeal to women (and certainly the interest).

I have some news for you if you think the golden age of American musical theater was due to straight men.

Anonymous said...


"How can a gay man write anything other than a very marginally appealing movie? Since he can't understand the central dynamic that drives male-female relationships?"

I'd say the same way a negro house slave understood white culture, and the master's needs better than the master.
Being an outsider, and at the mercy of the ruling class makes one much more sensitive to the needs of the ruler, since one's quality of life depends on it.
Those of the ruling class need care much less, if at all, for the needs of the minority.
For that reason, I think a talented gay screenwriter would likely be more effective showcasing the hetrosexual experience, than vice versa.
He has an objective eye, tempered by the fact that it's important for him personally that his objective eye be correct.
Tenessee Williams would be a good example. Streetcar Named Desire covered the gamut of the emotional life of a particular class, mostly hetrosexual, with nary a word in the play wasted.
I would agree that, a hack, by any other name, or sexuality, is a hack.
I also agree regarding Mike Ovitz's claim of a "gay mafia." I've noticed that, while being hetrosexual, to a gay show-runner, won't keep you from getting the job, being gay certainly helps.
All things being generally equal, the job will go to the gay. Things being generally unequal, with the talent scale pointing more to the straight man, the gay will still get the job.
It just means that if you're straight, and want to write for some sitcoms, you better be damn good.
I guess it stands to reason in that, if you're going to be spending many hours together, being able to speak freely and casually about one's lifestyle amongst your co-workers is a big plus.
It's understandable. Not fair, but understandable.
But anyone who tries to claim it's not a big factor in some circles these days is full of shit.

Anonymous said...

To 'evil neo-con': Gay men cant write to appeal to women? Well,women seem to like Desperate Housewives,an obviously gay-written show;at least they like it more than men,most of whom,I am guessing,(like me)find it partly entertaining but generally repulsive. So you get 1/2 credit! :) :) Now,Steve,you have commented on the evil blonde-haired blue-eyed South African apartheid sympathizer,the evil blonde-haired blue-eyed nazi sympathizer,etc ad nauseum. These cartoon characters are much more acceptable bad guys to Hollywood,than an Russian Jew or Israeli nasty! Plain old Russians can be cool bad guys,as most people dont realize the Russian Mob is heavily Jewish--and aint no movie gonna tell them that!:) The Irish bad guy is a reliable go to guy here and there,but I think you're wrong to say the Italian hood is through! Recall the words of Bob Evans who said the reason Italian mob movies sucked is because the Italians were played by Jews,when they should be played by Italians. He then went on to cast a little caper called The Godfather. (A bit O.T.--sorry) As for Casey Affleck? I think the greatest honor he is likely to experience as an actor is catching a glimpse of Jennifer Garner making a mad dash from the shower to her panty drawer! _Josh