Wednesday 14 October 2015

Movie Review: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

A dark investigative thriller about a missing young child in Boston, Gone Baby Gone starts with a simple premise and gracefully expands into an engrossing quest through the terrain of conscientious choices. For every action there is an unplanned consequence, and Gone Baby Gone shines a light on alternatives that remarkably reside somewhere between well-intentioned, selfish and socially destructive.

In the working class Boston neighbourhood of Dorchester, four year old Amanda McCready is abducted. The child's angelic looks dictate that the media will choose this case to be the shock crime story of the week, creating a predictable circus of television crews and reporters overrunning a once reasonably quiet residential neighbourhood. The police are on the case, but the girl's aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) and uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver) want to do more, and approach private detective Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to also investigate. Patrick grew up in the area and went to the same school as Amanda's mother Helene (Amy Ryan), a single mom now proudly flaunting her white trash credentials.

Police chief Doyle (Morgan Freeman) who himself lost a young child to crime years prior, reluctantly agrees to cooperate with Patrick and Angie, and connects them with detectives Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton). They soon uncover Helene's drug habit, her sleazy boyfriend, and their drug supplier, a Haitian crime lord who goes by the name Cheese (Edi Gathegi). Helene recently stole money off Cheese, creating the perfect motive. Another investigation thread suggests that a recently released child molester and two other drug addicts may also be suspects. But just when Patrick thinks he is close to making a deal with Cheese to recover Amanda, events take a sudden turn for the worse and a bad situation descends into an unmitigated disaster.

Ben Affleck's directorial debut is a magnificently downbeat achievement. Adapting the Dennis Lehane book, Ben directs his brother Casey with the measured confidence of a veteran and creates a dramatic, morally nebulous masterpiece. Gone Baby Gone peels away layers of social normalcy to uncover the warts that live underneath, and dares to wade into unattractive places with imperfect people, where decisions start at bad and progress towards atrocious. Other than Amanda, no one is pure, everyone has questionable motives, and unspoken shades of gray dominate the landscape of judgement.

A thriller with no cheap thrills, no contrived drama and barely any superfluous action, the film just exists with common people trying to get ahead in a world decaying on news soundbites and crass daytime television. Patrick and Angie uncover the lowlifes surrounding Amanda, and realize that they are lifting the cover on a sewer of rotten humanity. Helen's scuzzy boyfriend Skinny Ray, crime lord Cheese and his henchman Leon are just the start: the list of scumbags possibly connected to Amanda's disappearance extends to a deranged child molester and hardcore drug addicts.

This is a foulmouthed, dangerous world that easily sucks in the uneducated Helene, but no matter what, she is a victim: her child has been abducted, and Patrick clings to this principle as everything else around him seems to collapse. Meanwhile, the unglamorous Boston locations give the film an earthy attachment to a current of discontent where crime can find a comfortable home.

Ben Affleck carefully constructs the film around character depth, and although no single person dominates, they all receive enough definition to emerge as real and flawed people. Helene, Bea, and Lionel instantly create an uncomfortable family dynamic, while on the enforcement side, Patrick is never sure how far he can trust the sharp Remy Bressant, burly Nick Poole and their Captain Jack Doyle. They all become memorable individuals circling each other, saying half-truths to get by and sustain dark motives that may or may not emerge into the light.

With Patrick stubbornly picking away at the details of a case that never quite seems to be resolved, every relationship ruptures. Even Angie finds herself questioning Patrick's actions, her belief in her partner called into question by the lingering fate of a young girl.

Gone Baby Gone elegantly finds its way to the murkiest corners of the soul, where wrong may be right, right may be wrong, the moral choices are infused with unease and all decisions lead to uncertain futures.

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