Written by: Ben Affleck & Aaron Stockard
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan
Black-and-white issues with clear-cut answers work well in theory but real-world application introduces the grays of our reality to muddy everything up. These gray areas become more and more apparent with the emotions flowing through Gone Baby Gone, especially with the subject matter it takes on. Dirty, unpolished, and brutally honest, the moral quagmires these characters must take on raises many valid questions pushing them to their limits.
Known for bounty hunting for pay, Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) get approached to assist with the disappearance of a local young girl. With a cocaine-addicted mother (Amy Ryan) providing very little help, the duo has to navigate their neighborhood and the police in order to find the girl against the clock.
No one can accurately capture a location or neighborhood more than individuals who have inhabited it and having the Affleck brothers take on a story within South Boston pretty much guarantees authenticity to the people there. Not having been there, it became obvious Affleck knows the area where characters who may appear ridiculous feel authentic in the context of the story. Credit must also go to the actors who really go all-in with their portrayals, which further sell the type of people Patrick and Angie must work with in order to provide some sort of closure in this case. The duo become our guide to show the positive and harshly negative aspects of what it’s like to live in this particular area and in a sense, the neighborhood becomes its own character.
The treatment of children sits right at the center of what pushes the plot along as the search for the missing girl pushes people to not care for decorum in the name of finding the young one. It’s what propels the girl’s aunt to hire Patrick and Angie for the type of work they do not typically take on and even incentivize the police to work with the bounty hunters to get the job done. In the end, the only thing truly mattering is finding the child. Egos no longer matter, not even in the slightest, which makes what occurs throughout the feature so much more difficult to take on emotionally. Children represent innocence in every way and the idea of any individual taking them against their will can unite even the biggest enemies with any hint of humanity. It displays such effective storytelling and the further it puts our characters in these moral gray areas, the more it turns these questions over to the audience to decide what they would do in those particular moments.
Several decisions made in this feature get done with the complication of legality in mind but seemingly get a pass because characters believe it to be right. This gets made explicitly clear in an instance where Patrick stumbles into a truly horrifying scene and responds in a brash manner wherein a legal sense, he does wrong but it poses the question to the audience to wonder if they would not do the same. This battle between self-determination of right and wrong and what the laws say continues on throughout and only further gets complicated until reaching the final major decision point. This slippery slope will eventually lead to unforgivable acts being justified because of one individual’s viewpoint and this gets crossed on multiple occasions. The questions have their validity and I appreciate any film willing to raise them in a meaningful manner.
With a strong cast to boot, the stand out amongst them undoubtedly proved to be Amy Ryan. While personally immediately associating her with her work in The Office, seeing her play a brash mother with no filter came as a pleasant surprise. She sells the undesirable traits everyone in the story sees while simultaneously displaying the raw humanity hidden under it all as she seeks out her daughter. Her presence as a mother raises many ethical questions, especially when other character motivations get revealed and the reality of the situation just gets more and more complicated.
Scintillating in its economical storytelling and establishing an authentic location for it all, Gone Baby Gone stands as a strong directorial effort by Ben Affleck. He captures his home city, warts and all, to serve as the background for a type of story played out in the past. This iteration feels incredibly fresh in the final product and thoroughly entertains just as much as it shocks because it deals with the well-being of children and the adults assuming they can make decisions based on what they feel is right rather than legal.