Rating: Very Severe
Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Titus Welliver, Amy Madigan
Spoiler alert in effect.
In Ben Affleck’s feature film directorial debut, he definitely sets the bar high up. Based on a novel by the same name, whose author is also responsible for Mystic River and Shutter Island, it’s definitely one of the better crime thriller/dramas I’ve seen. I’ve yet to watch Mystic River, but I have seen Shutter Island, and both have incredible twists and psychological elements to it that leave the audience mulling it over long after they leave the theatre. It’s definitely dark and heavy content (with an excessive amount of swearing), and the topic matter makes you think really hard about what’s right or wrong, and what is moral or immoral.
Gone Baby Gone is a crime mystery drama that takes place in a rundown area of Boston, where drugs and crimes proliferate. A 4 year-old girl named Amanda goes missing, with her mother Helene McCready (Amy Ryan) making a plea through the media to get her baby safely back home. However, it’s Helene’s brother Lionel McCready (Titus Welliver) and his wife Beatrice McCready (Amy Madigan) that contact two private detectives to augment the police investigation into the missing child case. These two detectives are Patrick McKenzie (Casey Affleck), a local resident who has good knowledge of the people living there, and his girlfriend Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The first half of the film seems like your standard crime film. Patrick and Angie work together with two cops, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton), in order to chase down leads on who might have Amanda. It seems like they got it all figured out and are to make a random exchange when things go south and Amanda is assumed to be have died. But with this occurring only half way through the film, there was always going to be more underneath the surface. Patrick starts to see inconsistencies in what Remy and others are saying, and he connects the dots to uncover a huge twist in the whole case. The last quarter of the film is the most intense, both in terms of plot and action. Just when you thought you knew it all, the final and most shocking twist comes to light and everything in the film just seems to fall into place, as you mentally go back over all the characters and their motives.
I have to say the way the story was told impressed me immensely, seeing as this was Ben Affleck’s first directorial. It’s not an easy story to translate from book to film, and huge plot twists are always a risk. If you don’t give the audience enough clues, they’ll be left confused. Give them many, then the twist will have already been solved before it’s revealed. You need to give the audience just enough for them to be able to solve while they’re watching it, meaning there needs to be pauses in the films and an occasional flashback to jog their memories. There’s nothing worse than being spoon-fed the answer of course, but I think he did a great job of giving us the small pieces of information we’d need without making it obvious that it will play a bigger role later. It’s not until you rewatch it that you realise it was all laid out from the beginning.
NOTE: I mentioned at the beginning of my post that there will be SPOILERS, but I will say it again in case you missed. Do not read the rest if you don’t want to know the twist in the end. You’ve been warned.
The whole twist just blows my mind. It’s really obvious when you think about it, but not while you’re being misdirected by all the characters. The film follows the perspective of Patrick, and when he starts figuring stuff out is when the audience does too. For me, it wasn’t until the police told him that no phone calls to the station were recorded and no transcripts were made that I finally realised that Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) was also in on the act. Then it all made sense. He lost his daughter when she was murdered at just 12 years old, and has also felt a need to protect vulnerable children who may be neglected or abused by their parents. Both Remy and Lionel are in on it too. Lionel feels a personal responsibility because he helps to take care of Amanda when Helene is out taking drugs or with random guys, and he felt Amanda would be better off with people who actually love and care for her. The biggest question the film asks the audience is summed up by Jack “Is she better off here or better off there?”. I’m still having an internal debate with myself. On one hand, I can’t stand to see children being neglected by parents who seem like they couldn’t care less about the responsibilities of looking after a child. I take responsibility seriously and bringing a child into the world is of the biggest ones. You owe them to take care of them properly. If Helene continues to leave her child unattended and baking in the car while she’s off getting high, then Amanda definitely deserves better than that. However, I can’t quite seem to justify stealing a child like that making the mother think that their child died. Doing something for the right reasons doesn’t always make it right. To bring up a child in a new albeit ‘better’ environment with a new family will leave the child questioning her identity in the future. I know that Jack wanted what’s best for Amanda, but I’d have to say there must be a better way than effectively kidnapping the child and taking her away on holiday trips. I also know that she’d have a much happier prospect in life if Patrick had just left her there, but is that the proper thing to do? I don’t know. Patrick’s right in the sense that Amanda may resent being taken away from her mother and never given the choice to go back. Is that worth the better upbringing? Will she grow to forgive everyone involved and realise that she’s better off not living with her mother? The problem is the future is unknown. Amanda may or may not have a better life in either of the places. While it doesn’t seem like Helene has changed, maybe Amanda will successfully break away from the mold because she knows the place she was brought up in, and she doesn’t want me to trapped there like her mother. Amanda could’ve grown up with Jack and ended up resenting everyone and going down a dark path. It’s hard to say what would happen and there will always be regret and guilt. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this film. It opens a can of worms. Who’s wrong and who’s right? It’s up to each person to decide.
Moving on from that, I have to say that the complexity of the characters is really well fleshed out, which is no surprise considering it’s based on a book. But it seems to be translated well into the film. I feel that they used empathy to really draw you into a character. Take Helene for example. She’s a pretty unlikable character but yet we still feel drawn to her and feel sorry for her when she weeps for her child. There’s also Angie, who gives the maternal viewpoint and truly cares about the child’s welfare. She’s there to make sure the audience remembers that there’s a child involved here, and this isn’t just some game they’re playing. Then there’s Patrick, who wants to take the hard line, but his moral compass always seems to steer him back. He questions whether the things he does are wrong, even if done for a seemingly right reason. He’s consistent in that sense, abiding by the law and God’s rules. There’s always two sides to every character and this depth makes the film all the more intense, because you root for them and you want to know what happens. You’re willing to go through all the twists and turns to finally come out the other side, not unscathed, but satisfied that at least you know.
A common thread in all the films I love is a good story and good acting. I cannot fault any of the actors on this film. It’s dark and raw, and you can see the commitment and conviction in their performances. For me, Casey Affleck is the backbone of the whole thing, because it’s through his character that we view the story. He tells the story so well through the expressions and emotions in his face and eyes, and we can see the regret and guilt etched on his face. I was also very impressed with Amy Ryan, because her character is hard to like right from the beginning, but she does such an amazing job in making her human and showing her vulnerability. She’s able to play both the wild careless drug addict, while also the softer, more sensitive mother in grieving. Kudos to her.
Overall, it’s an impactful film with a powerful message, strong acting and twists and turns that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It’s quite a heavy and dark film, so be prepared before you watch it. It’s definitely worth it though, and the story will linger with you for days.
Side note: It’s been a while since a film has really made me think and feel inspired to write a review. The past couple of reviews I did were some of my most difficult to write because I didn’t feel that connected with the film and I had nothing extra to offer. But with this, I just felt a sudden rush of exhilaration and before I knew it I had typed up a good 1000 words. It feels good to get this feeling back, because for a while, I thought I had lost the inspiration.
1. Do you think Patrick made the right decision letting Amanda go back to her mother? What decision would you have made?
2. Do you think the film was a good adaption of the novel?