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In the world of "Gone Baby Gone," the latest adaptation of a Boston-set novel by Dennis Lehane, you aren't safe just because you're from the neighborhood. A typical scene has private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his live-in business partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) locked in a seedy neighborhood bar with a pack of rough and ragged regulars. The two are looking for an abducted little girl, but these locals have something to hide, don't like their inquisitiveness or are simply bored.

Patrick and Angie have been hired by the little girl's grandmother and uncle for their ability to open people who won't talk to the police, and they are in the bar because it was a frequent hangout of the girl's drug-addled mom (Amy Ryan). Patrick, mean but lean, has to pull a stubby revolver to force his way out with Angie. He's free to go, and to knock out one of the bullies who lobs some unsavory parting words at his girl. But though Patrick wins the moment, he emerges into the sunlight with the question that nags the rest of the film: Should they succeed, what nightmarish life will they be bringing the girl back to?

"Gone" was directed by none other than Ben Affleck, he of "Gigli" infamy and many other dubious career choices. Only in contemporary Hollywood could such a person carry a major film from conception to birth, especially one as unconventional. As Patrick and Angie proceed on the trail, they sniff out an ever-increasing degree of dirty dealing and unsavory characters. The cops treat them no better than criminals. Even police chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and a pair of his detectives (Ed Harris and John Ashton) are little more than reluctant help.

"Gone" has the usual twists of the genre. Suspicion falls on a drug kingpin, a local child predator, the cops and, especially, the sour and selfish mother. (An unwanted laurel to Affleck's gift with realism, his film was pulled from distribution in the UK since it accidentally nearly mirrors the Madeleine McCann case there.) "Gone" reveals the culprits, but resists a tidy resolution. The ultimate trick pulled off by the movie is that though it is a supreme downer, that fact does not give away the ending. As it nears, Patrick finds success elusive whether or not he rescues the girl. He and the rest of the people damaged by these events have unluckily found themselves in an extremely rare mainstream film, one that never lets them off the hook. (R) 115 min. S



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