Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver
Director: Ben Affleck
Runtime: 114 min.
Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama
Gone Baby Gone is one of those rare films which are worthy of its final scene. One of the ways great works affect me is in not just the manner they end, but in how their journey measures up to that ending of theirs. The final shot before the credits roll on, from behind a television set with two people sitting on couch in front of it, seems to linger on for a moment or two more than it was intended to, as if entranced by the view and what it had just created. I was too, and the ambiguous closure of it is, in a way, disconcerting. And yes, its greatness is that it is worthy of that final shot.
Gone Baby Gone is an easy thriller to describe, for its thriller tag is a mere skin-deep generic reference. By that I mean I can share a few plot points without the fear of spoiling your joy whenever it is you decide to watch it, though I hope it is sooner rather than later. Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name, the setting is that same city which has given us two gripping crime dramas of recent years in The Departed and Mystic River – Boston. The neighborhood is coming to grips with the sensational kidnapping of a four-year old girl, Amanda McCready, and the whole of Boston police department is roped in. Amanda’s mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is a drug addict and a mule (a courier for illegal drugs), and she comes across as a mother you wouldn’t line up to trust your baby with. Her sister-in-law Beatrice (Amy Madigan), desperate to go to any lengths to find her niece hires professional investigating team of Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to, in Patrick’s words, augment the investigation by helping with the neighborhood aspect of it. And unlike the conventional cop, Boston police chief Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) is welcome to their suggestions, and provides two of his men, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) to aid them. All the chief cares for is the girl.
I feel like I’ve shared an awful lot about the plot than I usually do, yet as I look back I’ve given away almost nothing. That is the kind of depth that exists beneath its surface, beneath its people. As any thriller, there’re twists and turns galore but they’re almost never the point. When the film turns round the corner, it doesn’t give a hoot in hell about a pat on its back but instead examines the moral gravity at hand. The script (Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard) is brilliant, in that it doesn’t care about hiding clues to tease us later; the clues are always there in front of us. There seems to be an air of authenticity about it, but the film doesn’t seem to be too concerned with that either. What it is concerned about, and so is Ben Affleck’s first venture behind the camera in a major studio production, is the imminent moral tragedy. We arrive at the twist not surprised; rather there is an air of expectancy and inevitability surrounding the proceedings. Neither Affleck, nor the film ever make up their mind as to what is right, and they never resort to judging. They never act God, if you know what I mean, nor the intellectually high and mighty. Instead they seem to be discovering their world, through the eyes of Patrick, and in turn guide us along.
Much of the scale of the film, and its tragedy owes its existence to the cinematography of John Toll (The Thin Red Line, Braveheart, Legends of the Fall), and he renders an epic dimension to the film. He travels through the urban terrain via aerial shots, and he maneuvers around Patrick via spectacular tracking shots. There’s a sequence towards the end, where Patrick and Remy find themselves on the rooftop of a building. There’s the slightest indication of grainy footage, and with the vast landscape of buildings in the background against the setting sun, there’s just the tinge of sepia – we feel its gloom.
Casey Affleck offers one of the performances of this year, and in his Patrick we experience a protagonist about whom we never know much about. He seems to be young, but in those eyes there’s an old man quite tired of it all. Been there done that, as they say, and the kind of demeanor you would think twice before messing around. He doesn’t let it out to provide us relief, and that is where much of the moral complexity is derived from. He kills a pedophile but all he feels for himself is remorse. The film doesn’t help him either, sharing his catholic belief. It is the easy thing to do, killing a pedophile, yet it leaves us in a quagmire if it is indeed right. Maybe that is the reason why he chooses what he does at the end, against what is easy, to atone for his past. He probably is aware of the price, both in the short and long run, and he’s prepared to take it one. After all what matters is the man in the mirror, and it is he who is the supreme judge.
I believe though that the film doesn’t seem agree with the choice Patrick has made, and if he seems to be atoning for his previous sins, it feels it is the wrong time. This is the sort of moral dilemma it traps us in, and when we are there, inside, how is it do we judge Patrick. It isn’t about good and evil sticking themselves out with respective tattoos on their chest; almost everyone here seems to be good. There seems to be no place for the evil soul; he is shut out, banished. In that it seems to be the anti-No Country for Old Men for people here aren’t astonished by the evil, they plain stamp it out with disdain. What is tragic though is that the evil stems from the good amongst it. I’m confused now too, with where I’m going with this one, and if I’m seemingly contradicting myself it feels like a good time to stop. Not before heavily recommending this marvelous motion picture, a film one of a kind.