Gone Baby Gone

Rated 4.0

The basic narrative premise—the investigation of a missing-child case among low-life types in a working-class section of Boston—might seem loaded with lurid possibilities. But pulp sensationalism and tabloid hysteria get relegated to the far corners of character and social background here, and the mystery plot unfolds in increasingly convoluted fashion. The chief suspense is less a matter of plot twists than of character puzzles. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), the scrawny private eye who backs his way into the case, proves tougher and smarter than he looks. Key police figures, including those played by Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, have half-hidden agendas of their own, and the relatives of the missing child comprise a bizarre little menagerie of muddled motives and mismatched emotional postures. In his directorial debut, Ben Affleck is skillful enough with actors and social atmosphere that the production maintains its emotional conviction and its moral complexity even as late-breaking plot-twists nudge it dangerously close to preposterousness. Affleck and a fine cast (especially his younger brother Casey) successfully traverse the dicey territory between stark realism and morbid sensationalism—a crucial ingredient in this smartly de-romanticized, relentlessly unsentimental cop story.