Picks and Pans Review: Gone Baby Gone

updated 10/29/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/29/2007 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan | R |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

CRIME

Ben Affleck, all is forgiven. All those big, dumb action flicks you zombie-walked through with your chest puffed out to here, and the publicity machine's blare back in your Bennifer days, none of that matters anymore. Based on Gone Baby Gone—your impressive first shot at directing—buried beneath all that Hollywood hype was a serious, reflective guy who was paying attention to how smart movies are made and to what really matters in life.

Gone, cowritten by Affleck from a novel by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), is a moving, character-driven drama about a private investigator (Casey Affleck, Ben's younger brother) looking for a little girl snatched from his gritty Boston neighborhood. As he helps police with the case, he uncovers dark secrets about neighbors and the cops that reveal just how tragically messy life can sometimes be.

Casey Affleck couldn't be better. His baby-faced character grows up before our eyes, eventually coming to understand that the world is filled with moral ambiguity. Good people do bad things for the right reasons while doing the right thing can sometimes turn out sadly wrong. Gone's storytelling becomes noticeably cluttered and clunky for a patch partway through, but director Affleck gets his story back on track in time to serve up a haunting finish. I look forward to his next film.

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