Not only did Ben Affleck have to sweat out making his directing debut by adapting a Dennis Lehane novel (Clint Eastwood already set the bar on Lehane's Mystic River), he also cast his brother Casey in the leading role. Nepotism would be the least of Affleck's problems if Gone Baby Gone flatlined onscreen. No worries. The brothers Affleck both emerge triumphant in this mesmerizing thriller. As Boston private detective Patrick Kenzie, taking on small-time cases with his girlfriend, Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), Casey — just off a standout turn gunning down Brad Pitt's Jesse James — grabs his breakthrough role and runs with it. Patrick is so green that cops call him Harry Potter. And it doesn't take long to figure he's in over his head investigating the case of a missing four-year-old girl who has a crackhead mother (Amy Ryan is a sensation). Note to Oscar: Get Ryan on the nomination list pronto. Affleck and co-writer Aaron Stockard know that Lehane's novels are only mysteries on the surface. It's underneath that emotions simmer.
Affleck's first time at bat as a filmmaker is more than promising, it's strikingly assured, showing a keen eye for the exact moment when action defines character. With the help of camera master John Toll (Braveheart), he brings alive the Boston neighborhood (both Afflecks are natives) where cocaine, kidnapping, pedophilia and murder lurk in the everyday shadows. And he gets richly detailed work from an outstanding cast, slyly twisting the magisterial image of Morgan Freeman as a police captain and giving full vent to the explosive Ed Harris — is this guy ever bad? — playing another cop with something to hide. Gone Baby Gone is full of dark secrets, and how they unravel will keep you glued.