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Gone Baby Gone

Screenwriters: Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard

Distrib/Release date: Miramax/Oct. 19

Storyline: When a Boston-area family hires a pair of young private dicks to find a missing 4-year-old girl, the local police are not amused.

About the Script: After pals Affleck and Matt Damon won the screenplay Oscar for “Good Will Hunting,” they focused on acting careers. “There was always pressure to try and do something creative,” says Affleck. “There’s a certain risk in putting yourself out there. In 2002, I’d gotten the rights to Dennis Lehane’s book and asked Aaron, a fine writer, to help me break it down. I wanted to move on if it wasn’t any good. I worked on it as an experiment, intermittently, for a couple of years, working as an actor on and off. He’d work while I was gone. I write really slow. It took a long time till it got to a place where I felt good, especially after (the similarly themed) ‘Mystic River’ came out. I put it down for a while and didn’t think about it. But clearly, books by Lehane set in Boston can be good. I decided, I can make this.”

Biggest challenge: “I wanted to get the details of this intricate mystery down to a place where they make sense, without feeling obvious or too complicated. And there had to be an integrity and realism to it. I didn’t want to lose the undercurrent of social criticism that made the book compelling in the first place. The book didn’t exist as a one-off, it was the fourth in a series of five. I was not sure it could be distilled into a screenplay while maintaining the nuances that interested me. The audience knows a lot about these characters from other books. Expositionally it was hard. As we added more and more, it got weightier with more information. I had to find a way to subtract, so we didn’t have to know as much.”

Breakthrough idea: “I opted to take the characters as they were in the first book, and transplant them to the fourth book. All the specifics of how they got involved in the case, the police and all the procedural elements, were intact. But they’re very different people, new to what they do, rather than world-weary celebrity detectives.”

Choice lines: “You should be proud of yourself. Most guys would have stayed outside.” “I don’t know.” “What don’t you know?” “A priest says, ‘Shame, what you did was wrong. Murder is a sin.’ ” “Depends on who you do it to.” “That’s now how it works. It is what it is.” “It’s a war, man. Are we winning? No.”

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