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Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Saw a couple of really depressing movies this week – “Gone Baby Gone,” currently playing at The Dixie Theater in Staunton, and “Rendition” now at the Regal multiplex up in Harrisonburg. Each, in its own way, is enough to keep me gloomy until the big Holiday Depression sets in around Thanksgiving. Have a nice day.

The first one, “Gone Baby Gone,” has been ballyhooed as Ben Affleck’s first film as a director, so natch he cast his li’l brother Casey in the lead row. This lighthearted romp is all about the disappearance of a young child, a subject that’s no laughing matter to anyone with any brains.

It’s based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, who also wrote “Mystic River,” and there are many similarities. Both firmly set in Boston, both deal with disappearances, both gritty and blue-collar, both full of forlorn, unhappy, broken people. Not a smiley face in the crowd.

I don’t want to give away anything about “Gone Baby Gone,” but by the time it’s over, everyone is either dead, in jail, or feeling miserable. Everyone except the little girl’s mom, that is, who’s cheerful and happy and headed for disaster.

The cast and the setting are both quite good. I think every living human in Boston is a card-carrying character actor. The sense of place is terrific. The cast includes Morgan Freeman, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris and Titus Welliver in the biggest walrus mustache I’ve ever seen.

It’s a complex story that follows a couple of private detectives (Affleck and Monaghan) on their search for an adorable little girl. There’s plenty of tough talk, police corruption and neighborhood bar brawls to keep you interested, and Casey Affleck (who’s also co-starring in the current Jesse James flick) gives quite a performance as a young guy who’s frighteningly inflexible in his beliefs.

Everybody’s angry about something or other, everybody mumbles in one or another of the 13 distinct Boston accents, and our young hero ends up unwilling to leave well enough alone.

Being a big fan of depressing movies anyway, I liked this film because there’s a built-in sense of anxiety (always good for your stomach lining) and Affleck (the director) does a reasonably good job of moving things along. I’m still not sure how I feel about Affleck (the actor), but time will tell. It’s fun to watch his development, anyway.

The other film, “Rendition,” has its own particular kind of depression on a more global scale. It’s grandly cast with Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon in the nominal leads and cameos by J.K. Simmons, Alan Arkin, Meryl Streep, Bob Gunton and Peter Sarsgaard. Everyone else is a blue card actor that most of us would be hard-pressed to recognize by name.

The subject of the film, our government’s current practice of grabbing up people suspected of terrorist involvement and whisking them off to foreign countries where they’re questioned and tortured, is pretty frightening and (yes) depressing.

There are actually two quite interesting storylines that loop, like a butterfly’s wings, around a suicide bombing in a crowded foreign square. South African director Gavin Hood gives us an unblinking view of some things many Americans would rather not deal with, most particularly this process of “extraordinary rendition” – letting others do the dirty work for us.

More than half of the movie critics came down on this film for one reason or another. I found it well-crafted, frightening, and certainly powerful enough to make me rethink my own (rather lazy) views about how my country treats foreign “people of interest.”

The plot is gripping and well-paced, complex yet easy to follow, and my only misgiving is that perhaps Gyllenhaal was not the perfect actor for the role of a young C.I.A. agent who learns to take a stand.

Frankly, it’s my opinion that every thinking American should see this film. Sorry if that definition leaves out George W. Bush. But he oughtta see it, too.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

“Gone Baby Gone” is the choice in Staunton, but “3:10 to Yuma” still holds that unmistakable allure of Dirty Cowboys on the Rampage. And for those few of us who would simply rather not wallow in a trough of depression, there’s always “The Heartbreak Kid.” In the meantime, keep your chin up, sweetie. (Isn’t that what the executioner said to Anne Boleyn?)

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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