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'Gone Baby Gone'

Ben Affleck's directing debut, Casey Affleck's second knockout performance in a month (the first was as Jesse James' assassin), and source material by the author of Mystic River all qualify as fine reasons for catching this child-kidnapping mystery.

But there are plenty of subsidiary ones as well, including deft supporting performances by Ed Harris (as a hard-nosed detective) and Amy Ryan (as a piteously unfit mother), plus an ending guaranteed to leave audiences buzzing.

The case seems pretty straightforward at first, when private eye Casey Affleck gets hired by relatives of a child missing from his neighborhood to augment a police investigation. His local angle turns out to mean a lot, in ways I probably shouldn't reveal. Suffice it to say that the plot has surprises right through its final reel — and that the ending is a morally ambiguous corker.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.