Gone Baby Gone

Gravitas without Gigli

Something about South Boston makes directors such as Gus van Sant (Good Will Hunting), Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Martin Scorsese (Departed), and now neophyte Ben Affleck (Gone Baby Gone) go for its working-class realism that celebrates the abrasive friendships of hard-knocks' sharing and the comfort of life-long neighborhoods. In Gone, Affleck's script recalls the lost child motif of Mystic and the betrayals of Departed, with less of the latter's intensely-felt terror and more of the former's existential angst.

Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan are hired to find a missing little girl, but as any aficionado of the thriller knows, there's much more to the plot than this. While the first hour plods through the increasingly boring CSI rituals of gathering evidence, the last 45 min. are reflections about the demands a conscience makes on contemporary relativistic challenges that could be settled at either end of the ethical spectrum.

If you allow me the almost irrelevant example, the Iraq war could be thought of as the greatest humanitarian effort in the world's history or the greatest foreign relations blunder in American history, depending on how you view things. Affleck's film engages this kind of Platonic give and take between the ideal and the real with a denouement that leans toward the ideal without fully making its case.

In other words, I liked the dialogue between police captain Morgan Freeman and private detective Affleck about the fate of the lost child, a sparring that raises the film from mediocre whodunit into a dissertation about the ethical maxim that the ends do not justify the means. Along the way, Dorchester is evoked with more realism than in Mystic River, largely through montages and cutaways of real denizens and a few local actors.

But the film's adherence to clich?d cop techniques such as interminable interviews with locals to build a case keeps this from being a groundbreaking effort by the new helmer. But, hey, even Eastwood used these techniques. Yet, Eastwood has gravitas and no Gigli.