On the evidence of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane loves Sophocles. Since both adaptations of his novels include scenes in which a character describes The Evil That Men Do, I’m inclined to blame him for the hamhanded way in which Clint Eastwood and now Ben Affleck have staged them (all they need is a chorus comprised of the Wailing Women of Dorcester, rending their garments over what has befallen their city). Both are actors – do we see a pattern?
Mystic River isn’t regarded too kindly these days – lots of GBG’s favorable reviews included dismissive references to the earlier picture – but naturalism, especially the Hollywood variety, rarely gets its due. Gone Baby Gone benefits from greater geographic verisimilitude, a crisply edited trip through the familiars of police procedural drama, and a tip-top supporting cast, especially Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (bravely sporting an appalling haircut), both clawing out of the casting doldrums. Not much talk about an excellent lead performance by Casey Affleck, unfortunately, who wrings surprising variations from his gurgly growl that unearth his character’s moral filigrees. The last third is a disaster that I blame on Lehane as much as B. Affleck, redeemed only by the alert, darting eyes of Michelle Monaghan. Apparently she and Casey Affleck are recurring characters in Lehane fiction. It wouldn’t bother me if Ben honed his chops filming another one of these, making judicious use of a black felt tip pen on the source material.