I went to see Gone Baby Gone. Before I elaborate on my thoughts, I should point out that I have not read this series by Lehane, so I can’t compare the movie to the book. I’ll be taking the movie at face value, for what it was or wasn’t, in my opinion.
The premise isn’t a complicated one. Girl goes missing. The girl’s aunt hires private investigator to augment the police investigation. Things don’t go particularly well. And if you want to completely avoid spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read this post. It would be impossible to really comment on the movie without touching on some plot points, so consider yourself forewarned.
We don’t have a lot of sympathy for the mother. She left her daughter at home alone, apparently just for half an hour. But it isn’t long before the PI team of Patrick and Angie uncover the fact that the mother actually left her daughter alone much longer, and that she was off doing drugs at the time.
Weak point #1. In the process of gleaning this critical information (which comes pretty darn quick and easy – in a book, you’d have to actually work for this) I’m starting to get an impression of Patrick, or at least, how Casey Affleck plays Patrick, or how the writers wrote him for the movie, or how the director interpreted him or something. Let’s just call it ‘the movie version’ and not worry about who’s responsible. But this guy borders on Too Stupid To Live. In this scenario in the bar I’m getting my first glimpse at a guy who I guess must be pretty green as an investigator, and doesn’t seem to think anyone has anything to hide. Discretion is not his middle name.
Weak point #2. Now, without going through the entire plot and dissecting it, it boiled down to the critical lead in the investigation, and how it was handled. Again, Patrick is proving himself green. Thank goodness Angie had the brains to question how this was going to be handled… Unfortunately, that leads me to…
Weak point #3. Angie, and I’m sad to say that. I liked how Michelle Monaghan played her (nicely understated, no female theatrics), and let’s face it, MM was wonderful in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and the character of Angie had so much potential. Unfortunately, this was the “let’s give Casey Affleck the most face time possibly imaginable, even if it means compromising the development of other characters and the storyline” version. And clocking in nicely under two hours, it leaves me to wonder if it boils down to stupid budgeting decisions or just what. But I got the sense that there was a whole storyline under Angie that was completely ignored. From the beginning, she doesn’t want to deal with a case with a child. I had the impression there was more there, but they don’t delve, don’t even hint with a ‘I know this might be hard for you’. She changed her mind pretty quick, though. And then took the aftermath of how the critical lead was handled (or should we say mishandled) very hard.
And then, there was the end. Okay, that’s what convinced me. There was more there, there had to be some reasoning. We got to see why Patrick made the choice he did, or at least, we were given a reasonable go at his reasoning. But with Angie it can all be a surprise because she’s undeveloped. Damn shame. Fucking tragedy, actually. Great actress, great potential, completely underutilized.
Oh, and she backs down from her doubts about The Plan pretty quick. Kinda makes her come off as spineless…
Weak point #4. Now, I can see how someone could make this work in a book… but the way the midsection of the movie was handled, after the child was declared dead and when Patrick and Angie were drifting, bugged me. I didn’t feel it was built up enough, for one thing, to come off as much more than an extreme coincidence. Sure, the kid abduction was prepped, and the suspects named. But how that unfolded to the point where Patrick got that critical piece of information that got his wheels turning was a bit of a reach in terms of the movie. In a movie like The Departed you’re getting layers upon layers of clues and revelations and the way it’s played comes off like you know you don’t know who to trust. Unfortunately, that goes back over to Mr. Too Stupid To Live. First of all, as a PI he goes into this house with a drug dealer and participates in the sale of drugs? Turning a blind eye is one thing, but this? I don’t know. It was a niggle point.
Weak point #5. The ending. Um…. Let me get back to this.
Now, I realize that it may come off like I thought the movie was bad. Actually, I’m giving it a B/B+. Overall, it was entertaining. It had suspense. It had a few twists (although they bordered close on divine intervention instead of plotting). But in digesting it, I felt it was too bad Patrick came off the way he did. If that had been a woman she would be raked over the coals as one of those incredibly dumb women who shoots off her mouth and waltzes in to dangerous situations recklessly. Patrick does that. He shoots off his mouth, a lot. And he seems to think he has a suit of invisible armor on, and shows no discretion or caution.
In fact, the one time that he does shut his mouth (when being questioned about the cop who died after the “hold-up” at the bar) is when he could have opened it without fear. He knew where the road led. He knew these people were prepared to kill – they’d already done it, and only hours earlier one had put a gun in his face.
But no, he’s going to go out there himself and confront the person he now suspects of involvement in the kidnapping of the girl.
This movie had a lot of overall strengths. High points? Well, Amy Ryan is a pleasure to watch on The Wire and she really showed her stuff in this movie. What a bitch of a character, played brilliantly.
It was an absolute delight to see The Wire’s “Omar” in blues. Sweet.
Ultimately, I felt that with another half hour or so, with more overlapping of the two cases from the beginning instead of the case 1, case 2, case 1 segregation, it would have been stronger. Round Angie out and develop that character more and it could have added a lot of emotional punch. As it was, the way she was written bordered on a typical crime in films – using the woman as window dressing. And develop the clues a little better and it’s not a B movie, it’s an Oscar contender. (I mean, hey, if The Departed could win won, why not? I had my nitpick points with that movie too, although overall it was stronger than GBG.)
I left certain that the book is vastly superior, which is often the case. Would I go see a sequel? Yes. I would give it a chance.
I expect to be lambasted now by enthusiasts of the film. Like I said, it was good. It was just a shame because I could see how it could have been so much more.
And having said all that, what about the ending? What about social services? What about the fact that the mother participated in a crime, and confessed to that? Uh, am I really believing we live in a cell phone and PlayStation era as portrayed in the movie and nobody did anything to see that the girl wasn’t returned to her mother?
Where was Angie’s conviction then?
Okay, I’d better stop, because the more I think about it, the more I’m left to wonder. I wanted this movie to be an ‘A’. It’s rare enough I go to the movie theatre to see a film, and I never go to movies alone, as I did today.
Damn. Thinking about that ending may have knocked it down to a B- for me.
(Oh, and delaying it in the UK over the Madeleine McCann case? The book was written years and years ago, so this is one of those situations where life has imitated art, but there are some eerie coincidences. Four-year-old child. Blonde and cute. Left home alone. Because of all the media hype around the MM case, it would be hard for people to shut it off. And it really doesn’t matter when the book was written, because a huge chunk of the audience probably won’t even know it was based on a book. The main difference here is with GBG we’re looking at a bitch of a mother, single mother, drug user, corruption and illegal activity… The similarities are superficial.)