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Dennis Lehane on the heroes of 'Gone, Baby, Gone' and on Affleck's movie version

Last week I asked the terrific Boston-based crime writer Dennis Lehane ("Mystic River") why he thought Laura Lippman had ceased turning out Tess Monaghan mysteries like clockwork. He said he thought that making Tess Monaghan a mother brought Lippman to the same point Lehane reached a dozen years ago with his Beantown private-eye partners Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, most famous for "Gone, Baby, Gone." After a five-book string, they disappeared for a decade, until he brought them back last year for "Moonlight Mile."

Lehane said, "You accept when you read a private-eye novel, like one of the Tess books, that a reporter or detective will get into these adventures in the first place -- when we know they don't. Putting that premise out there is as fantastical as I want to get – I want everything else about them to be banal – be Babbitt! I want them to be interesting in regular ways. I think Laura is running into the same problem – after a certain point, it becomes ludicrous when people have these continual brushes with death that are also really going to damage their relationships. You wonder why they wouldn't say, 'f--- this, I'm going to go off and work construction.'"

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I asked Lehane whether there's a chance director Ben Affleck and the team he assembled for "Gone, Baby, Gone" could get back together for "Moonlight Mile." Lehane said, "I don't know, but when I watched that film, I just thought, 'this guy is to the director's chair born.' "

Watching the film again on DVD last night, I was bowled over by the ensemble (including Amy Ryan, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Morgan Freeman) and the freshness and confidence of Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan as Kenzie and Gennaro. Affleck captures Lehane's observations with all their nuance and vitality intact. (Affleck does an infinitely better job, I think, than Eastwood did with "Mystic River.") During one encounter in "a sleazy white-trash bar" called the Fillmore, Affleck achieves an exact cinematic equivalent of the novel's prose: Lehane writes, "So this is how it happens. A woman with intelligence, pride, and beauty enters a place like this and the men get a glimpse of all they've been missing, all they can never have. They're forced to confront all the deficiencies of character that drove them to a dump like this in the first place. Hate, envy, and regret all smash through their stunted brains at once. And they decide to make the woman regret, too - regret her intelligence, her beauty, and, especially, her pride." Casey Affleck, Monaghan and a tavern-full of sorry losers and plug-uglies, make that combination of erotic and class tension ripple through the saloon like heat lightning before anyone even says a word.

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Throughout, Ben Affleck gets his actors to extract the bitter juice from Lehane's wood-alcohol prose. The movie has its horrifying Gothic twists and turns, but it's never better than when it takes the two stars into places where the underclass goes to forget or be forgotten or get lost.


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