Andy Bockelman: 'Gone Baby Gone' one year's best films

— The crime drama "Gone Baby Gone" is a powerful piece of cinema that should keep viewers engrossed.

When 4-year-old Boston toddler Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien) is kidnapped from her home in Dorchester, the community is in an uproar. Despite all the attention that the crisis receives, few of the residents of the neighborhood are willing to cooperate with the police. Amanda's aunt and uncle (Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver) turn to other methods of finding their niece by hiring local private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), who has contacts that the police do not. Kenzie and his associate/girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) discover that there are more elements to Amanda's disappearance than originally thought. Unfortunately, looking into the case further may affect them and have a damaging effect on the both of them.

Affleck gives a commanding, yet reserved performance, and while he certainly steps up for this role, he also allows the rest of the cast to make an impression. Monaghan does an excellent job playing his partner and does particularly well in the heavier second half of the movie. Madigan is admirable as Beatrice McCready, who is a better mother figure to Amanda than her actual mother Helene, a seedy drug addict. However, Amy Ryan plays this part very nicely and manages to make the messed-up character believable. Ed Harris gives his usual terrific display of acting as cynical Detective Remy Bressant, but Morgan Freeman is the one who truly leaves a mark as Police Captain Jack Doyle, an officer dedicated to finding lost children ever since the shattering abduction and death of his daughter.

Ben Affleck makes an outstanding debut in the director's seat. The actor has been bogged down by the press relentlessly with questionable recent movie choices such as "Surviving Christmas" and "Smokin' Aces," and of course, the infamous "Gigli" still lingers. Nevertheless, Affleck builds upon the reputation that he has started to salvage with projects like the biopic "Hollywoodland." Directing a film like this is sure to prove to naysayers that "Good Will Hunting" (which he co-wrote with Matt Damon) was no fluke. One of the movie's best features is the way it emphasizes the gritty part of Boston in a way that almost outdoes movies like "Good Will" and "The Departed," as well as "Mystic River," which was based on a novel by author Dennis Lehane, who also wrote the source material for this entry. Affleck does a fine adaptation in co-writing the screenplay, making the material just as haunting onscreen as it is on paper.

"Gone Baby Gone" is amazing on multiple levels; not only is it a great display of acting with a mesmerizing story, but it is an ideal undertaking for brothers Ben and Casey Affleck. Even more remarkable is the fact the elder Affleck effectively goes against the trend of using Freeman's voiceover talents, and instead employs narration from his sibling. This unexpected attribute is just a single reason that this is one of the best films of the year.

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