MOVIE: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

A couple of days ago, I said the movie Sunshine was a flick made for people who like it when a movie inspires them to think in addition to just entertaining them.

When it comes to this film, I’d say that’s the understatement of the year.

This intriguing drama/mystery is about a 4 year-old girl named Amanda McCready who has been kidnapped out of a low-income house in South Boston.  Her mother, Helene, is a drug addict/prostitute, and doesn’t seem all that upset about her disappearance, so the girl’s aunt and uncle decide to try to enlist some outside help.  They hire a pair of private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennero (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan), and though they primarily specialize in tracking down deadbeats and have never worked on anything as serious as a kidnapping before, they agree to try to do what they can to help.

Lucky for everybody but the kidnappers, Patrick grew up in Southie and despite his disarmingly youthful and innocent face, the guy’s got some serious connections in the underworld.  His search for clues leads him to a variety of bad dudes, mostly drug dealers with the occasional pedophile thrown in for kicks, and it’s not long before he begins to sniff out a trail.  He’s also managed to impress the police captain assigned to the case, Capt. Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who, despite brief initial reluctance, agrees to help, instructing his two detectives, Remy and Nick (Ed Harris and John Ashton), to work with Patrick and Angie as closely as they can.

Of course, nothing makes me more suspicious than a police captain who eagerly embraces two rookie private eyes, so that was the first clue this wasn’t going to be your average cops-and-kidnappers crime drama.  As the film progresses, more and more little hints that things are not quite what they seem are dropped here and there, allowing the savvy viewer to start piecing together their own theory about what’s truly going on.

What I really appreciated about this film, though, is that while I managed to figure out the “who” and “how” of the mystery before the ending, I got the “why” completely wrong.  That just doesn’t happen that often and yet, by the time all was revealed, I could look back and see exactly how I could’ve figured it out if I’d just been paying slightly closer attention in a few scenes.  All the pieces were there — I had just missed a few of the corners.  I love it when that happens — when a movie actually manages to outplay, outwit, and outlast me.  It’s a rare occurrence these days and thus, something to be wholeheartedly embraced.

On top of it all, that “why” — boy, did it ever make me think.  It took me days after seeing this film to finally resolve my feelings about its ending.  I won’t say anything about what happens, of course, except to say that though my instantaneous “gut” reaction was that Patrick makes the obviously-correct choice, I’ve since realized I can’t really say for sure that I would’ve made the same decision in his place.  And, more interestingly, I also can’t say whether I think that makes me courageous or a coward.  I could go either way — I think we probably all could.  When was the last time a movie made you feel both morally smug and utterly ashamed, all at the same time?  For me, I think it was probably Dead Man Walking — and never before or since until now.

This movie is classy, smart, and thoughtful.  It’s clear from the first ten minutes that it’s being made by someone who knows South Boston intimately — not only Casey Affleck, of course, by also his director, big brother Ben — and I really felt myself sinking completely into the setting and the characters.  It’s a movie that has stayed with me for over a week now, and I don’t sense I’ll be shaking elements of it for quite a while to come. 

My only complaint is that I found Michelle Monaghan to be almost superfluous here — she could easily have been omitted from the film completely and I don’t think we would’ve missed her.  And I can’t tell if that’s a flaw with the role itself, or if it was just that Michelle didn’t have the oomph needed to make an impression on me as strong as the one Casey Affleck did.  In any case, her character was there to provide a balance to Patrick — someone NOT of the Southie world, someone with a different opinion about what’s “right” in the situation they’re thrown into, etc.  And I just didn’t feel she managed to provide that balance quite as strongly as I would’ve liked.

Other than that, though, I really can’t quibble with a thing.  Definitely one to  see — everybody’s been talking about this one for a good reason.  By the way, I also just saw Casey Affleck in the new Jesse James movie, so watch for my review of that one in another day or two. 

[Netflix me | Buy me]

Genre: Drama, Mystery
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Robert Wahlberg, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan

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5 Responses to “MOVIE: Gone Baby Gone (2007)”

  1. Lorraine Says:

    I liked this movie too, more than I thought it would. I found the story compelling as it took turns that I didn’t expect. I knew that things were not as they appeared but I didn’t realize how much. The characters were interesting and I found myself rooting for them. I was especially impressed by Casey Affleck who I may never have seen before in a movie. I liked his mixture of innocent look but tough-guy demeanor.

    The 2 actors from “The Wire” were very good. Amy Ryan wasn’t afraid to be the bad-girl and just lay it out there. She was fierce. And it was nice to see Michael K. Williams getting more exposure (although I was pulled out of the story a bit because I was so excited to see him).

    Ed Harris may have engaged in some scenery-chewing but I’ll forgive him. And Boston itself was a character which set the story in a real place and gave it an authentic feel. The locations were interesting.

  2. Trip Says:

    Completely concur on Amy Ryan’s performance as Helene Macready, the girl’s mother. Wow – she went for broke with the coked-out Southie white trash mom portrayal. Her Oscar nomination was completely justified.

    (By the way, if any of you haven’t seen The Wire, you’ve been missing out on one of the very best crime dramas ever created. Seriously, you should hang your head in shame if you haven’t seen it! What’s the matter with you?)

    Anyway, Meg nails this review. I agree that Michelle Monaghan’s character is tragically underdeveloped; almost feels like she was the victim of some tough editing calls. She wasn’t given enough to do, although she is given enough time on screen to make her decision at the end seem logical.

    I was pleasantly surprised at the unexpected turns the story throws at you. Even though I knew why some of the scenes were in there, I was still bowled over by their power. The confrontation in the bar early on: clearly a need was there to establish Casey Affleck’s toughness. He looks so young and not very convincing as a P.I., so they had to have something to display how tough he was inside. Well done there. Ditto for the scene in Cheese’s lair, and the house-raid scene involving the molester/crackheads.

    I also liked how the decisions made by the characters through the film influenced their decisions at the end, when the grand moral dilemma is presented. Affleck’s character doesn’t bend one inch, even though the audience is probably conflicted (I know I was). Totally appropriate and very well done. And then…the final shots as he is made to live with his decision….awesome. Great wrap up.

    I kept reminding myself over and over that Ben Affleck directed – wow. Dude has a future behind the camera, huh?

    This was much, much better than Mystic River, IMHO, definitely a must-see.

  3. Lorraine Says:

    I liked that Michelle Monaghan’s character (Angie) was not just the typical girlfriend role. Angie wasn’t there just so the leading man had someone to rescue. She stood her ground in the bar and in Cheese’ lair. But she was underutilized and I read that her part in the book was more significant.

    I thought that Ben Affleck showed his actor background in his directing. The character scenes were compelling but some of the transitions seemed a little clunky. But he can improve on that with practice.

    And I strongly agree that “The Wire” is outstanding. I consider it the best tv series – ever! The characters are so compelling and it has a wicked dark humor.

  4. megwood Says:

    “The Wire” is great — the only problem with it is that it’s SO intricate I’ve felt like I can’t see the last two seasons until I go back and rewatch all the ones that came before them. Should’ve taken notes. Well, guess this is exactly the sort of predicament they made Netflix for, so I better get started. . .

    Incidentally, after seeing season one of “The Wire,” I made Jim True-Frost (Prez) the Boyfriend of the Week (http://megwood.com/archive/jimtruefrostf.html). I commented on “The Wire” in that write-up, if you’re interested. I just went to reread it myself, actually, and had forgotten I hadn’t seen “Off the Map” when I wrote it. That’s one of my FAVORITE Jim True-Frost movies (also one of my favorite Sam Elliott and Joan Allen and J.K. Simmons movies — heck, it’s just one of my favorites of any nature, I guess). Definitely one I think everybody here would enjoy, so give it a rental if you haven’t already.

  5. Lorraine Says:

    Meg – I went back and re-read your writeup on True-Frost. It’s spot-on. There is so much going on in The Wire that I’m sure that I’m missing some. I think that True-Frost definitely shines in season 4 which I’m currently Netflixing. The “knowing glance” with Bubbles is great – I had to watch that several times 😉

    I wouldn’t know where to stop counting Boyfriends from “The Wire”: McNulty, Omar, Bubbles, Kima(yes, a girl but she’s too good to skip), Prez, Bunk, Bunny, Bodie, etc. Heck, almost everyone except Herc (possibly the dumbest character on the show).

    “Off the Map” – I vaguely remember that movie. A nice little indie with interesting actors.

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