Magazine article The American Conservative

All in the Family

Magazine article The American Conservative

All in the Family

Article excerpt

[Gone Baby Gone]

WITH "THE SOPRANOS" wrapped up, there's a general feeling that the Italian mafia has finally been exhausted as grist for movies and TV. What Hollywood needs now is a new favorite crime-prone immigrant group, of which there is no shortage of candidates.

Here in Los Angeles, the more dismal murders--such as one teenager shooting another over graffiti-tagging rights to an alley--are committed mostly by the usual suspects. In contrast, the colorful capers that Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers would find cool, the seemingly brilliant schemes that somehow go awry and end in a bloodbath, are perpetrated mostly by white newcomers from either the Middle East or the ex-Soviet Union: Armenians, Israelis, Persians, and the like.

Yet Hollywood seems instead to be falling in love with an ethnic group that has been here even longer than the Italians: the Irish. Working-class white Boston, where killings, while rare, frequently remain unsolved, has been the setting for the recent Oscar-winners "The Departed" and "Mystic River."

Now failed leading man Ben Affleck (perhaps most notorious for bombing in "Pearl Harbor"), who won a screenwriting Oscar a decade ago with his best friend Matt Damon for their movie about a Boston prole, "Good Will Hunting," has returned to his roots. He has co-adapted and directed "Gone Baby Gone," a detective thriller by Mystic River novelist Dennis Lehane set in Boston's grimy Dorchester neighborhood.

Well, Dorchester is not exactly Ben's roots. He was born in Berkeley, California and was raised in Cambridge, which is just like Dorchester, if Dorchester were home to Harvard and MIT. Like Damon and so many other younger stars, Affleck is from the artsy-lefty upper middle class. (The clearest exception to this trend is Dorchester-born exthug Mark Wahlberg, who was electrifying in "The Departed.")

This modestly budgeted film noir about neighborhood private eye Patrick Kenzie trying to unravel the kidnapping of the four-year-old daughter of a cocaine-addicted single mom hinges, like "The Maltese Falcon," on the snoop's devotion to his profession's ethics. Affleck's direction is a bit choppy, and the plot eventually becomes either bafflingly complex or nonsensical, but the overall impact is strong. …

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