Partners both romantically and professionally Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are watching television in their apartment and the news is full of the disappearance of a little girl, Amanda McCready, who has been missing presumed abducted for three days now, with police even more concerned than they were when the incident was first reported because the more time that passes the less likely the girl will be found alive. In the impoverished area of Boston this has taken place, Patrick and Angie find themselves drawn into the case almost against their will...
Initially that is down to them being private detectives who work in the city specialising in missing persons cases, but as the plot thickens it becomes more personal and they begin to lose a lot of what they hold dear: the shifting moral high ground, for example. This was Ben Affleck's directorial debut, or at least the first film he directed to hit cinemas, adapting Dennis Lehane's novel himself (he does have an Oscar for screenwriting, remember, though not from this) thanks to him being a fan of the series it was drawn from. At the time a lot of people offered abundant praise for his endeavours, and it was true there were some very strong scenes here.
The trouble was that there was a lot, especially as the narrative attempted to round everything off, that was less impressive, and the film could lurch from one excellent scene where the acting was exemplary to one which felt hokey and forced, one following the other, making for a bumpy ride: the archetypal curate's egg in fact. To concentrate on the good, Affleck had assembled a very strong cast, headed by his brother Casey who may come across as offputting and oddly impassive in places, but this operated on a level of showing a man struggling with his background in working class Boston which his old locals now see him as rejecting: these people have their pride, and they don't like to be reminded it's possible to better yourself.
Class was very much to the fore, and Affleck, for all his moves to include the residents of the areas he filmed in, looked to be having mixed feelings about them, admiring their resilience yet resenting those who are content to wallow in alcohol, drugs and crime when with a bit of effort they could easily pull themselves out of their poverty. What he didn't seem to bring was a chance to help the disadvantaged, excusing this by having them squirm whenever anyone tries to do so, which leads to the contentious finale where one character really has hit upon an idea to "save" an individual who would otherwise be doomed in their eyes, except that to do so goes against the law of the land. Before we got there, we were shown what a minefield a corrupt society can be for the innocent.
Patrick is one of the innocents in his own way, but by this stage his job has begun to get to him, so that when he clings to the law we're intended to see this as a flaw when he could easily be sending one of his fellow innocents to their destitution. One of those past saving was Amanda's mother Helene, played by Amy Ryan who walked away with the acting honours; not a well known cinema face - better known on stage for those who follow the theatre - her slatternly and irresponsible character was the movie's most indelible image, and the more we find out about how she was neglecting her child for her own selfish reasons the less we like her. Ryan was excellent and one of the best reasons to keep watching as Gone Baby Gone descended into moral hysteria with everything falling to pieces Affleck surveyed modern life and threw up his hands in despair at the depths we had sunk to. But then, he didn't come up with much of a solution, and as the plot turned farfetched, a didactic pessimism was the conclusion. Music by Harry Gregson-Williamson.