I avoided seeing Gone Baby Gone. I can't see things about children being hurt or killed or anything anymore. I don't even like to see headlines about it. However, Disney was kind enough to send me an advanced copy of the DVD this weekend, with the request that I review the movie. So, I watched it. On DVD. At home. This is hard for me. I had to wait until my daughter was asleep so I could properly focus. Then I had do do some dishes, and tidy a little. Finally, I sat down to watch with a cup of tea. My daughter was coughing in the next room, and after five minutes I had to pause the movie to bring her some milk. She sounded terrible. I got her tucked in, and headed back out to the couch and started to watch again, although I was still half-listening for coughing. After some time passed, I got caught up in the movie.
This is a very interesting movie. At its base, it is a hard-boiled detective movie, with true twists and turns. It also is dark, with really rotten characters. Dennis Lehane has set up another morality play, like Mystic River, in which right and wrong flip around on each other, slippery like fish just pulled from the water. Patrick (Casey Affleck) quotes his priest, who gave him this scripture when he asked about getting to heaven when surrounded with so much evil in the world: followers of the Lord are sheep among wolves, and must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. He sees Amanda McCready as a sheep among wolves, and then tries to strike his balance between serpent and dove. His associate and girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), doesn't want to get involved for the same reason I didn't watch the movie: she is scared of what she might see.
The balancing act between the Church's notion of good and evil and the day-to-day reality of slippery fish is blown apart in a climax in which Patrick has to make a terrible choice. He makes the wrong right choice, and we watch him do it knowing how wrong he is. Or is he? It's hard to keep hold of what's right.
The praise heaped on this film was not undeserved. Ben Affleck really did do a wonderful job of directing what must have been a difficult film to make, in many ways. He has proved again that he has a gift for capturing his hometown. I had heard complaints from some that the characters were extreme with unrealistic accents, but I was born and raised in Boston, and I didn't find that to be the case. These characters were familiar to me; stylized, but familiar. When we first meet Amanda's mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), her friend Dotty (Jill Quigg), slumping next to her on the couch says to Angie that she remembers her from high school and can see that she's "still a little bit conceited.""Conceited" is just one of those Boston words. I was taken right back to sixth grade when Dotty said that. I would swear that Dotty was two years ahead of me at school, and once told me that I was conceited too, in exactly that nasty tone. And Helene was standing next to her, snapping her gum and laughing.
Helene is a nasty human being and a truly loathsome mother. She is so neglectful and thoughtlessly cruel that it's a laugh line when she says "It's hard bein' a mother." We know that it's just something she's heard about. She has enough junky self-pity to get worked up when it hits her that she may be responsible for what has happened to her child, but she bounces back quickly. There is great poignancy in Patrick's search for a glimmer of maternal feeling in Helene. I won't spoil the ending by letting you know if he ever finds it.
This movie didn't get to me like I thought it would. With all the twists and turns, it was hard for me to get really emotionally involved. There is one pretty disturbing scene, but the rest was more of a thrill ride, aside from the deep weighing of morals involved. If anything, I was left feeling that my child was in little danger of kidnapping because I am nowhere near as crappy a mother as Helene. The coughing had long since stopped by the end of the film, so I went into my daughter's room only to hug her and pull the covers up. Maybe the film compelled me to do that, but I probably would have anyway. I'm no Helene.