I watched Gone Baby Gone recently. I had heard it was a pretty good movie but after watching 2/3 of the movie I wasn’t sure why. It seemed poorly written and or poorly edited and full of improbabilities. For instance, Patrick (Casey Affleck) plays a private investigator and at one point he kills two people and nobody seems to care. One of these people is clearly a terrible person but Patrick shoots him in the back of the head while he is sitting down. Basically, he executes him. (He’s a child molester so we don’t mind.) But this is supposed to be a realistic drama and private investigators can’t just run around killing people.

Anyway, the first 3/4 of the movie stinks. There are a few bright spots, like
Patrick’s cute girlfriend Angie (Michelle Monaghan) and Amy Ryan’s performance. She played the harbor cop in The Wire and Michael’s girlfriend in The Office. Here she plays a very different role: Helene, the mother of the kidnapped girl. She has a strong Boston accent in the film and is convincing. But the Boston accents are part of the problem. Sometimes it’s like watching one of those English movies where you can only understand every third word.

One other thing about the first 3/4. The director, Ben Affleck, clearly went out of his way to have real people in his film. There are a lot of shots of down-an-out people who are very convincing. It’s the opposite of the Hollywood movies that show buxom blondes running around in, say, medieval England. The real people thing is almost overdone though I agree with it in theory. I hate to say a movie is too realistic when most movies are so unrealistic but I think that’s the case here on a couple counts. It makes for an odd mixture of near-documentary and fictional film.

But I’m writing about this movie because of the last 1/4. Often a movie is good for the first 3/4 and then falls apart at the end. With Gone Baby Gone, the opposite is true. It comes together at the end and I think that’s why the people who praise it do so.

[The rest of this blog entry contains major SPOILERS]

Here’s the basic plot of the movie. The young daughter of a drug addict mom is kidnapped. Patrick is hired by the aunt of the child to help find her. Patrick uncovers an inside job. In collusion with the uncle, the police have kidnapped the child and given her to a retiring police officer who is childless. The child is now in a good home and is now destined for a great life. Patrick must decide whether to leave the girl in the good home or give her back to the drug addict mother. That’s when the movie gets interesting.

What is the Hollywood ending here? There isn’t a good one. I’d say the most Hollywood ending would be to leave the little girl with retired cop. That way, we know she’s going to have a happy life. And we still have the discussion when we leave the theater: was that the right decision?

In real life, what would you do? I’m not sure what I would do. Patrick turns in the cop and returns the kid to the drug addict mother. A Hollywood ending would then be to show the mother has turned the corner, that she has given up drugs and become a good mother. That doesn’t happen. In the last scene with the mother, she MIGHT have changed. She’s going out on a date and leaving Patrick to babysit the little girl. She hasn’t exactly lined up a babysitter, though she says she was about to get a last-minute sitter. We are left with the possibility that the mother is slightly more responsible then she was previously. There is no information about drugs either way. We have some hope for the daughter but can’t be too terribly optimistic.

I wonder how much of a hassle Affleck had with the studio over the ending. It’s based on a book so maybe that helped a bit. However it came about, it’s nice to see a movie that presents a hypothetical situation, doesn’t take the easy way out, and sparks substantial post-viewing discussion.