Gone Baby Gone – out now

The family feuds, criminal gangs and hard-eyed women who roam the streets of the gritty South Boston neighbourhood of Dorchester form the setting for Ben Affleck’s directorial debut crime drama.

Like Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone is based on a novel by author Dennis Lehane. Steeped in local colour, the film is a tale of abuse, loss and corruption. The film’s distributors actually pulled it from the Times BFI London Film Festival line-up and put back its UK release date because of the plot’s coincidental similarities to the Madeleine McCann case.

When four-year-old Amanda McCready goes missing, her junkie mother Helene (Amy Ryan) despairs. Unwilling to trust the cops, Amanda’s devoted uncle and aunt (Titus Welliver and Amy Madigan) call in a private detective (Casey Affleck – Ben’s brother) and his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) to search for the missing girl. The pair, working alongside the cynical, squinty detective on the case (Ed Harris) and the heartbroken police captain (Morgan Freeman) go down a long, winding road that leads them to the shadowy underworld of drug peddlers, ex-convicts and murderous paedophiles.

The plot is complicated, with plenty of twists and red herrings, but it manages to stay on track throughout. Ben Affleck handles the subject matter with sensitivity and a strong feel for the film’s working class setting. However, the film strikes gold in the moral conundrum it puts forth, where a just course of action is precluded by family loyalties and human feeling. When Patrick shoots a paedophile out of anger and disgust, the cops congratulate him, but he is tormented by guilt over the killing. Gone Baby Gone is a movie that refuses to put up with easy answers or pat moral judgements. A Boston native himself, Affleck has created a thoughtful and deeply poignant film which plays through our mind long after the end credits, as we wonder whether we would have done things differently.

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