When I first started hearing the praise for this movie shortly before its release to theaters in 2007, I found myself becoming very interested in seeing it. Critics were praising the excellent performances from the entire cast, the gripping storytelling, and most surprising of all, they were praising Ben Affleck, not for his acting ability but for his directorial debut with this supposedly mesmerizing, intense, and all too true-to-life film titled “Gone Baby Gone”. So, when it arrived to DVD I just had to see for myself if Ben’s directing was as good as some of his better acting days in films such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Hollywoodland”, or if it was just another artsy-type of movie that generally only critics like but most moviegoers could care less about.

“Gone Baby Gone” begins when a young girl is kidnapped, and two private detectives (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) are brought on board by the victim’s family to help solve the crime. As the mystery surrounding the girl’s disappearance begins to unfold, the secrets that are unearthed will change the lives of virtually every single person involved with the case. With time working against them, these two detectives must risk everything to do what’s right in the midst of a case where they have no idea who to trust and nothing is at all what it seems.

Well, let me say that after viewing “Gone Baby Gone”, Ben Affleck should have no worries about landing any future directing jobs, because he showed that he has a steady-hand when it comes to helming a film, and the subject matter is as serious as it gets both in life and in cinema, yet Ben’s focus never seems to waiver one second in the narrative of the picture. Tremendous kudos must go to Ben Affleck for tackling this challenging film, and for showing all the critics that he is truly a talent to be respected in his field.

The story for “Gone Baby Gone” is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (author of “Mystic River”), and was adapted for the screen by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard. The script is incredibly well-written, and is packed full of so many twists and turns that if you lose focus for one minute you’ll be lost as to what is exactly going on in the film. That is how fast the playing field seems to change in this movie. Just when you think you’ve got the movie figured out, and you know exactly what occurred and who was responsible, think again because the rug gets yanked out from beneath you and once more you are left puzzled, but never to the point of confusion or disbelief. Every twist in this story is completely plausible, never once calling upon the audience to suspend their disbelief for even a second. The story is superbly crafted and is a testament to the writers’ abilities to include so many shifts in the story, and yet they never lose focus or contradict themselves. Brilliant work on the part of everyone involved in the writing process for this film, from the novel to the screenplay everyone deserves great credit for this piece.

The actors were all extremely talented individuals and each rose to the task at hand of presenting such heavy subject matter with the proper respect it deserves. Casey Affleck (“Ocean’s Thirteen”) shows that he has the acting talent to handle the leading man role, and also finds himself for the first time in his career being able to step out from his older brother Ben’s shadow and establish himself on his own merits. Granted Ben directed Casey in this film, but even the best director’s can’t get such a gripping performance out of an actor if he or she is not up to the challenge, and clearly Casey is. The supporting cast led by Morgan Freeman (“Se7en”), Ed Harris (“A History of Violence”), and Michelle Monaghan (“Mission: Impossible 3”) are just as superb as their lead actor, and each gave such earnest performances that all should have been Oscar worthy, but unfortunately most of them weren’t. The only member of the cast to be nominated for an Oscar was actress Amy Ryan (“Dan in Real Life”), who portrayed the young girl’s mother in the film. Amy’s performance was so incredibly realistic as a woman whose daughter is kidnapped, yet due to her drug-filled life she can’t seem to completely fathom just what has exactly happened at first. However, once she does her heartbreaking realization that her life may have led to this unfortunate circumstance is so overwhelming that you feel so much sympathy for her instantly, regardless of what you’d seen of her earlier in the film, and her vows to clean up seem so earnest and heartfelt that you desperately want to believe in her. Yet in the back of your mind you wonder that if the daughter is brought back to her, the likelihood of her mother actually changing her life, and walking the straight and narrow is slim to none. Even if that is the case, and the mother never changes, you still want the daughter to be returned safely in the end, but you do stop to think that maybe the daughter would be better off with someone else raising her rather than her own mother, who never seemed to care that much about her before. It is quandaries such as this that makes “Gone Baby Gone” such an interesting, and sometimes difficult movie to watch.

With outstanding performances, gripping drama, and solid directing from first time director Ben Affleck, “Gone Baby Gone” is one of the most intense dramas I have watched in awhile. If you are looking for a movie that will keep you interested from start to finish, but will also leave you pondering the various questions it poses long after the credits have finished rolling, then “Gone Baby Gone” is a film you must see.

“Gone Baby Gone” is rated R for violence and language.