This post is my contribution to the DEBUTS blogathon spearheaded by Chris (Terry Malloy Pigeon Coop) and Mark (Three Rows Back).
‘Debuts’ will focus on directors’ first features (shorts not included), whether that be some little known feature no-one’s heard of or a breakthrough piece that catapulted them to stardom. We (well, Mark originally) thought it’d be interesting to see how a director’s first feature film compares with the rest of their filmography.
When I first heard about this, I was initially going to do The Usual Suspects as I thought it was Bryan Singer’s debut, but I ended up settling with Ben Affleck’s first film instead, which I think is still the one to top out of the three excellent feature films he’s done. Per IMDb, this is Ben’s directorial debut in a major motion picture, although he did direct two other movies that never made it to the big screen.
I saw this crime drama/mystery quite a while ago but I remember being quite affected by it. Set in Affleck’s hometown of Boston, starring his kid brother Casey, the story centers on an investigation into a little girl’s kidnapping, which turns out to become a professional and personal crisis for the two detectives involved. Based on the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name (who also wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island), this film has a strong cast that elevate the complex story that gripped me from start to finish.
Casey Affleck, who I think is the better actor of the Affleck brothers, plays private investigator Patrick Kenzie. He opens the story with a monologue as we get a glimpse of the neighborhood where he’s lived his whole life “I’ve always believed it’s the thing you don’t choose that made you who you are…” It’s an effective opening montage that establishes Casey’s character and puts the grim kidnapping scenario into context.
I’m not going to go into the plot as I feel that if you haven’t seen the film, the little you know about this film the better. What I can tell you is that, initially you might think the film is about one thing but slowly but surely, as details unfold, it becomes to be even more devastating that what you think it is. Another missing person case in the second half of the film inexorably shines a light to a darker world of corruption within the force. It’s not something new that we see stories about police corruption, how those who’re sworn to protect us end up betraying that trust, but the way things play out here certainly makes you stop and pause. Despite some hints along the way, the ending managed to still hit me out of left field. It’s such a simple scene but once you see it in context, Casey’s expression in that scene is just so gut-wrenching. In fact, as I re-watched it recently, it hit me how much of an emotional roller coaster this film was.
What makes this a worthy debut?
It’s quite a bold choice for Ben to tackle as his first film, considering the complex, twisty and morally-ambiguous Lehane’s novel is. This film stays with me for quite a long time after the end credits roll. It left me speechless as I pondered, ‘OMG! What would I have done? Would I have chosen to do the right thing? And what is really the RIGHT thing?’ What if the people you consider ‘righteous’ do unthinkable things because they believe they’re doing something for the greater good? Does that justify the act?? Things aren’t always so black and white in our world, and this film certainly made a good case for that.
The way he filmed the underbelly of Boston feels authentic and raw, it’s not the typical glamorous-but-impersonal shot of the city. It turns out that the people in the backgrounds in a lot of the scenes are made of real local Boston actors and members of the local town. Ben made a deliberate choice not to cast professional extras for authenticity and it certainly worked. It’s clearly a personal project for Ben all around, as Gone Baby Gone is also his favorite novel. Now, that doesn’t automatically translates to a good film, but Ben has quite a keen eye behind the camera and he’s certainly has a way with getting great performances out of his actors. I love how layered the characters are, beautifully realized by Casey and the stellar supporting cast, especially Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Michelle Monaghan, and the oh-so-underrated Ed Harris. Ryan was nominated but I think Casey and Harris were both robbed that year IMO.
What I admire about this film, and it’s become a signature of sort in Ben’s direction, is the lengthy dialogue. They can be as thrilling and tense as any action scenes, in this case, the well-written script is fully realized by terrific performances of the cast. The conversation between Casey Affleck and Ed Harris in this clip is a great example, take a look:
Ben Affleck – the Auteur?
Ok, so maybe he hasn’t earned that label yet but he’s certainly a force to be reckoned with as a director. It’s interesting to note that Ben was at a low point in his career a few years before this… starring in forgettable to downright awful films like Paycheck, Jersey Girl, Gigli, Surviving Christmas, etc. He did ok in Hollywoodland but his career wasn’t exactly in the up and up. I think Ben made the right choice in not starring in this film and just focus on his work behind the camera. He did work on the screenplay, which is his first screenwriting credit since his Oscar win with his BFF Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting.
I’ve seen all three of his feature film debuts and all of them are excellent. I think if I were to rate his films I’d go with Gone Baby Gone, ARGO and The Town. Yes, I know ARGO won Best Film at the Oscars last year and I’m good with that, but in the degree of how a film affects me, I think his first film still tops it for me.
That said, Ben’s work does improve over time as he becomes more confident behind the camera, and I like that he still maintains a certain degree of intimacy in the way he shoots his films. They don’t become ‘Hollywood-ized’ for a lack of a better term, as his films are always story and character-driven. I hope he continues that trend in the future. I like how he chose characters who are caught in situations out of their depth, they certainly make for an intriguing protagonists. Though the budget has gone up steadily from the $19 mil he got for this film, his films are still relatively small. The Town was only $37 mil, while ARGO had a $44 mil budget.
It’s interesting that after this film came out, “…[it] was perceived either as a fluke or too dark to make Affleck a candidate for bigger films.” per THR interview. Only Warners executive Jeff Robinov pursued him with absolute conviction despite the lack of financial success. “… Robinov brought me into his office and said: ‘I think you’re a hell of a filmmaker, actor. What do you want to do? Tell us, and we’ll do it.’ And I wasn’t having those meetings with every studio,” He then settled with doing The Town, which ends up earning nearly three times its budget.
I’m looking forward to Ben’s next directorial effort. It’s listed that he’s doing another Dennis Lehane’s adaptation, Live By Night, where he’s going to direct AND star. Not sure what’ll happen to that project now that he’s been contracted to play Batman/Bruce Wayne in multiple films. I do think that Ben will always be a better director than actor, but really, that’s really not a bad place to be in.
So yeah, if you haven’t seen this film yet, I can’t recommend it enough. I think it stands as one of the best directorial debut by a young director. We’ll see if one day Ben Affleck would indeed earn his status as an auteur.
38 thoughts on “[Directorial] Debuts Blogathon: Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone (2007)”
A fine film adaptation of a Dennis Lahane novel by Ben Afleck and screenwriter Aaron Stockard. Wonderful write-up and contribution, Ruth.
Thanks Michael! Ben certainly did right by Mr. Lehane as this is his fave novel. Curious to see if he’d tackle another one of Lehane’s novel next. I hope that project won’t fall through!
Cracking effort again Ruth!
Thanks Mark! Great to be a part of this crackin’ blogathon 😀
Definitely a good debut for his first directing gig, although I’m not a fan of Lehane’s books, I feel his stuff are way too contrive. I didn’t read the book version but enjoyed the film. I hated Shutter Island, both film and book version.
Well maybe after Superman vs. Batman film, Ben’s ready to tackle big budgeted film and direct Justice League.
I still haven’t seen Argo yet. Might give it a rent soon.
Hi Ted. I haven’t read any of Lehane’s books so can’t comment on that. But glad we can agree that this is indeed an excellent debut. Yeah, now I think the chance is pretty big that Ben would tackle at least one big DC film. ARGO is a good one too Ted, it’s definitely more humorous than than one though the subject is still dark.
Great write-up. I’m in full agreement that this is his best film so far and that the other two are both excellent.
Hi there, welcome to FC! Glad you agree! It’s three for three for Ben so far but I still put this one ahead of the two. Not many films affected me as much as this one did.
Fantastic job, Ruth! I remember when this came out, but life was crazy in 2000, and it fell away and I missed it. Love the cast of characters. I think Ben is a better director than actor–so will definitely give this one a go! 🙂
Hi Cindy! Thanks girl! I hope you will get to this one if you love the cast, as they all did a smashing job.
Great review, I’ll definitely give this one a shot. I like stories that make you think what would I have done and what is the “right” choice.
Yeah, the story certainly lingers with you long after you’re done seeing it. I hope you check this out soon.
Ben is one of my favorite new directors and this is my favorite film of his as well! Agree that Casey was robbed of an Oscar nomination. He was so great in this!
Wahoo! Glad to hear, Fernando. Casey really should’ve gotten a nod, seriously, he’s the heart of the film from start to finish, that speech he gave to Morgan Freeman is gut wrenching!
Luckily he still got a nod for Jesse James.
I still need to see that one!
Yes, you do! 😉
You know my thoughts on this one Ruth. I just hope that Affleck taking on Batman doesn’t affect his future directorial projects. I’m eager to see more from him.
Hi Mark, glad to see you share my appreciation for this. Yeah, I hope that casting would actually lead to more directorial opportunities!
Twas an honour to have you take part in the blogathon Ruth, really great piece 🙂
Honor & pleasure is all mine Chris, thanks again!
I enjoyed this film, awesome write up!
Hi Zoë , glad to hear!
Excellent job, Ruth.
A superb cast telling a tale very, very well!
Thank you Kevin! Amen to your last sentence 😀
A very great post here, Ruth 😀
I remember seeing this film without even knowing that Ben directed it. I was really blown away by it. It’s really intense and tight, the ending was a knockout too. The ending also got me thinking for days wondering what would I do if I were in his position. I also think that this is, as of now, his best movie to date. I love Argo, but this film is a gem.
Hi Fariz! Yeah, it’s really a nice surprise for me too. I wasn’t fond of Affleck at the time but the subject matter & cast intrigued me. Glad that you agree this is his best film to date. Let’s hope he continues to make good movies!
This was a pretty awesome debut. While i don’t know if i would say he’s topped this yet, but i think he has been on a good streak so far
Glad you agree Julian! You’ve seen his other two films then? Yeah I think this is still the one to beat!
I agree with your rankings of his directorial works, and on how great a debut Gone Baby Gone is. It’s so powerful and more impactful for me than his next two films. I’ve loved every movie Ben Affleck has directed, and I’m looking forward to his next directorial effort. I’m not sure he’ll ever be considered an auteur, but I hope he continues to direct.
Glad you agree Josh! I think lots of people rate The Town very highly but it feels too mainstream compared to this one. Yep, this one is the most impactful indeed. Yes, let’s hope he continues to direct in the future!
This, is one of my most favourite movies. This was a complete mind-fuck, and I hold it as the best example of morally ambiguous situations where righteous-ness is questioned and the grey area becomes comfortable. Affleck is a genius for doing this, and I feel it’s one of the most underrated movies of all time as well. Affleck’s best movie to date and you touch on all the reasons why brilliantly.
Awesome work Ruthie.
Hi Shah! Thanks so much for the kind words. I enjoyed your review of Shallow Grave as well, that’s one I still need to check out from Danny Boyle.
The moral ambiguity is perfectly illustrated here by Affleck. He took a big risk with such a layered story but it paid off nicely for him. Glad you agree that this is his best work. High five, Shah!
Just saw this film. Good review, Ruth. Wasn’t aware of that the novel by Dennis Lehane is Ben Affleck’s favorite, and that Lehane wrote Mystic River and Shutter Island.
I didn’t like the characters in Gone Baby Gone, but it’s a well-told story, with twists and turns, and the ending does make you think. It sort of reminded me of tv-show The Wire, so it was no surprise for me to read that Lehane wrote several episodes for that show. My favorite part of the film is the intro voice-over you mentioned. Even though I didn’t love it, I can still appreciate that it’s a good first feature.
I was strangely not that thrilled by the film on first viewing but have returned to it since loving Affleck’s subsequent directorial efforts. I think it is a film that gets better with every viewing because there is a lot to take in. A very good debut effort that showed the potential that really came to fruition with The Town.
I actually still love this more than The Town which is far more flashy and mainstream. It’s GOOD but it doesn’t have a lingering effect like this one. Yes Gone Baby Gone indeed gets better w/ each viewing.
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