In Ben Affleck’s commendable directorial debut, “Gone Baby Gone,” adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane, viewers are thrown into a web of emotionally complex and ethically ambiguous subject matter that essentially seeks to explore the issue of morality. Affleck delves deep into the processes that go into making the proverbial right decision and the lingering consequences that occur after such decisions are made.

Set in the tough, working-class Boston neighborhood of Dorchester, private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) agree to take on the case of Amanda McCready, a 4-year-old girl who has mysteriously disappeared. Accompanying them on this case are two members of the Boston Police Dept., unit chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and his detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris). What follows is a jarring, suspenseful story that slowly reveals a series of lies and corruption, with a plot that becomes increasingly intricate and a series of lurid and disturbing images of child exploitation, deception and ethical dilemmas.

Director Ben Affleck portrays this story in a mature, straightforward way, and depicts the characters’ lives and environment in an impressively authentic, realistic manner that makes this film feel readily accessible, believable and relevant. In dealing with the incredibly complex subject matter of child abduction and abuse, Affleck manages to create a well-developed, quietly powerful film that avoids any over-the-top melodrama, cliché or pretension. The film goes beyond simply delivering the message of doing the supposed “right thing,” and investigates the gray matter in between – namely, what doing the right thing really means and the implications of those actions.

“Gone Baby Gone” also showcases exceptional performances from the cast, particularly from leading actor Casey Affleck, who delivers a thoroughly convincing performance. It is particularly touching to watch him struggling with his emotions and judgment as he tries to remain neutral and well intentioned in a deeply difficult case. Also notable are Freeman and Harris, as they and many of the other multi-faceted characters in this film make viewers question one’s original concept of right and wrong.

There is no true unadulterated distinction between good and bad in this film: no wholly good or bad characters, no totally happy or sad ending, no complete sense of resolution or affirmation. The structure of the film is as complex as the content, and viewers are left to ponder the meaning of moral relativism and how someone’s seemingly honorable intentions can affect everyone around him, for better or worse. With “Gone Baby Gone,” Ben Affleck succeeds in crafting a truly thought-provoking film – raw, real and unsettling though it may be.