Guest: Shoe Box Classics #1: Gone Baby Gone

Another review from Brad Williams; an inveterate film buff who also writes for WhatCulture.com

These will be films which I loved, and still do, but which seem to be forgotten by most people – the type of films that sit in the DVD wall of a minority, sparingly loaned out and shared with close friends. But films none the less, which deserve true recognition. Some are reasonably current, others slightly older, but each and every one, in my view, a modern classic.

Gone Baby Gone opens like a documentary, on the sweeping yet claustrophobic streets of a Boston neighbourhood known as Dorchester. Throwing us into calm and surprisingly visceral realisms, sophomore director Ben Affleck leaves no misconceptions about his intention to ground the film in an urbanised pragmatism one comes to expect from low budget independent affairs. The two hours that follow, are not only a consummately empathetic depiction of dark human drama, but also the blossoming of a true talent in Ben Affleck.

As a concept, Gone Baby Gone sounds rather familiar. It tells of Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Private Investigator who, with his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan), is hired to “augment” the police in the case of a missing child – Amanda McCready. Well versed in the Boston underworld, Kenzie and Gennaro delve deeper and deeper into this seedy environment, with every passing minute losing hope that Amanda may well be forever gone.

In terms of context, Gone Baby Gone fills the criteria for a film which many actors would flock to in an attempt to either win an Oscar or launch their directorial career. At a cursory glance, this could be the sort of film easily dismissed or ignored. But upon deeper inspection, one will notice a cast peppered with thespians at the top of their game, and a Dennis Lehane novel as the source material; a writer who has an aptitude for writing human emotion and complexity with incomprehensible accuracy. Ben Affleck’s talent as a director comes with his understanding of these points, and choosing to surrender his ego to Lehane and the cast. One particular example of this comes when Kenzie takes Detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) to meet Helene McCready (Amy Ryan), the mother of Amanda. Much in the way Quentin Tarantino uses dialogue, and Clint Eastwood uses controlled emotion, to make their most memorable scenes pop. Affleck takes the framework of Lehane novel and filters it through a series of static medium shots. The scene evolves organically, developing subtly through the interaction of the characters, leaving the audience with a real sense of frustration, as the apathy of Helene reaches another shocking level whilst those around her reach a fever pitch of fear for young Amanda. This is also a prime opportunity for Amy Ryan and Titus Welliver as Lionel McCready to shine; both being extremely underrated actors.

When Gone Baby Gone veers away from our expectations, doubts are placed in the way we contextualise these ‘types’ of films. By following the source material, Affleck (whether intentionally or accidentally) draws our attention to all the wrong things, and when the story suddenly whip pans in a different direction we feel a real sense of excitement and shock which is very rare in modern cinema. The excitement could be based upon a sense of smug self congratulations, but there is no doubt upon a second viewing that all the clues are in front of us, we just fail to connect the dots. So when Amanda goes missing, and our attention is diverted elsewhere, we are not emotionally prepared for what follows. As Kenzie enters the home of Leon Trett (Mark Margolis) and finds what he does, our disgust and revulsion is equal to, if not in excess of Kenzie, and the lingering flashes of his reaction say more to us than any glorified close up could. The entire scene evokes memories of David Fincher’s Se7en, in the way that everything feels exaggerated and distended – overly sordid, if you will. This sentiment is echoed throughout, with each character’s personality being very much a visual representation. But the result of this is a raw and intense reaction to the story and the characters in a way we never expected.

It is the finale of Gone Baby Gone which slightly deflates the lasting effects of the film. Elements of predictability and over simplification make a slight dent on moments which really challenge our notions of ‘right’. But Affleck pulls things back for his final shot, which lingers on two key characters watching TV. Distant yet deeply connected, one not knowing how to react with the other, but firm in the knowledge that the decision they made, not matter how flawed, was the right one for them. Their relationship is unrequited in intensity, as one has no knowledge of the other’s importance in their life. The words mentioned of this day from a previous scene ring in our ears, and we are left to make a final judgement. It is a lingering and emotive moment, amplified greatly by a beautiful and haunting piece of music.

Gone Baby Gone is truly an attack on the moral code we hold as a people. Whether pro Mosaic Law (eye for an eye) or a true disciple of forgiveness, what Affleck achieves here is a cinematic experience that hits the heart and mind – resonating deeply. With other inept or egotistical directors, it is easy to see how a film such as this would be garbled, making ethical decisions for us. But it is with this version of Gone Baby Gone that we are not simply presented with a dilemma, but physically forced into an expressive reaction. Some may argue that Affleck is not the ‘director’ of this film, but rather a ‘vessel’ for its creation. There may be truth to this, but it is not fair to the director, he shows a skill and understanding which is evident in many celebrated filmmakers – not to mention, room to grow. No one can take away the fact the Affleck had the foresight to make this film exactly as it should have been; by making it about real people with real choices, setting it in a world which appears a million miles away from our own, but one that we recognise and can see ourselves being a victim of. So when you sit and watch Gone Baby Gone, you will know why the film starts like a documentary, on the sweeping yet claustrophobic streets of a Boston neighbourhood known as Dorchester.

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5 thoughts on “Guest: Shoe Box Classics #1: Gone Baby Gone

  1. Great movie, but it comes from great source material. Dennis Lehane is the author of the book its based on (and also Shutter Island and Mystic River). He is one of the top crime writers writing today.

    Amy Ryan was great in this flick.

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