Gone Baby Gone

24 08 2009

This film is more fulfilling as a sign of Ben Affleck’s promise, than as a good film in and of itself. It has a tendency to signal unlikeable characters by making them grotesquely unlikeable (and unhygienic), which is both effective as mood-setting and lazy as characterization. It also has a tendency to announce its ambiguity – the film is not ambiguous itself, but it has parts that are self-consciously ambiguous, such as the moral-conundrum presented at the end, where the audience could be forgiven for expecting Casey Affleck to turn towards the camera and ask: “And what do YOU think?” Similarly, the ambiguous characters are announced as such, although in many ways, they really are ambiguous and alive, so it is not so much of a problem. I am thinking, of course, of the characters played by Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. Alas, even they are a bit schematic. The film makes clear that they “had good intentions, but did wrong.” It is almost as if the narrative were structured less as compelling drama and more as an instructional debate video intended to foment coffee-shop conversations. We have Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman explaining their reasons, and then Casey Affleck providing a counter-argument. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, ask yourselves: who does the right thing in the end?” Again, it somewhat works, and I enjoyed the film, but I have to wonder how well it succeeds beyond its posing-of-the-question. Luckily, the film does end on a wonderful coda that, at the very least, allows the aforementioned question to persist even after the film’s conclusion, preventing the audience from complacently accepting the protagonist’s choice as the correct one.

One point I do want to make: Michelle Monaghan’s role becomes more and more tangential as the film progresses. I wanted for her to have a more primary role, especially since, at the beginning, she appears as Casey Affleck’s partner in a missing-person-finding team, and thus, she seems to be his equal in relevance. Instead, she eventually becomes relegated to a side-show, until the end, when she descends further into a mouth-piece against which Casey can bounce off his opinions. There are reasons for this: from the start, Casey’s character is most involved with the case of the abducted child, while Michelle’s character is reluctant to begin the investigation. Her growing distance from the case also serves to emphasize her growing distance from Casey – the relationship thins, until it apparently withers with the final passages. Since Casey is the main player, her distance from him necessitates her distance from us, the audience. This is dramatically logical, but unsatisfying regardless. She turns into the stereotypical female character looking at the male’s tribulations from the sidelines.

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