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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Discussing the "Gone Baby Gone" Ending

GONE BABY GONE is Ben Affleck's directorial debut.

As an actor, his career decisions have left many shaking heads in disapproval. Until this very day, the mere mention of PEARL HARBOUR would make me grimace in disgust, and I still have frustrating high school memories of classmates and schoolmates telling me that 'the film wasn't so bad, hee hee hee', or Sebastian claiming that Pearl Harbor would have been nominated for Best Pic Oscar if it weren't for 9/11. I wanted to scream "AAAAAAAARGH! WHAT'S SO [EXPLETIVE CENSORED] GOOD ABOUT THE [EXPLETIVE CENSORED] FILM? ARE YOU [EXPLETIVE CENSORED] KIDDING THE [EXPLETIVE CENSORED] OUT OF ME?", but I was much mellower then, so I merely suffered from teenage angst, nothing more.

Since Pearl Harbor, the list of films Ben Affleck had appeared in weren't that much better. DAREDEVIL? PAYCHECK? JERSEY GIRL?

Personally, CHANGING LANES was his only decent post-PEARL HARBOUR film. I haven't seen SUM OF ALL FEARS, nor GIGLI or HOLLYWOODLAND or SURVIVING CHRISTMAS, I heard HOLLYWOODLAND was respectable, but the cons outweight the pros, thus I still hold on to my belief that he's better as an ensemble player than a lead actor (nice cameos at SMOKING' ACES and CLERKS 2).

So I was intrigued when GONE BABY GONE started getting all those positive reviews after its release (93% on Rotten Tomatoes), while Amy Ryan had been winning one Best Supporting Actress award after another.

The film is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote MYSTIC RIVER), and stars Ben's little bro, Casey Affleck (most people will probably recognize from the Ocean films).

I don't think I can say anything that hasn't been said before about the film. It's good, well-acted (it has a strong cast, aside from Amy Ryan's critically-acclaimed performance as the trailer-trash neglectful mom, we also have Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman, and Ben Affleck made a wise move of getting locals to act in the film, to give increase its authenticity, it's a little something most Malaysian indie filmmakers often do) and has enough twists and turns in the plot to surprise me, and the haunting ending is what elevated the film to another level.

Here's one of the plot summaries from IMDB:
Dorchester, one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of Boston, is no place for the weak or innocent. Its a territory defined by hard heads and even harder luck, its streets littered with broken families, hearts, dreams. When one of its own, a 4-year-old girl, goes missing, private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) don't want the case. But after pleas from the child's aunt, they open an investigation that will ultimately risk everything -- their relationship, their sanity, and even their lives -- to find a little girl-lost.

I usually like detective films (hell, my next short film's gonna be one), and Casey Affleck's Patrick Kenzie is an unconventional private eye different from the hard-boiled ones like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe often seen in film noirs. The guy looks younger than his actual age (31), someone even insulted him by telling him to go back to his 'Harry Potter book', but he can still be pretty badass when forced by circumstances (a bar scene earlier in the film will show that).

The little girl's disappearance may have been caused by the negligence of her alcoholic mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), and one can argue that she relishes the media circus she had turned her missing daughter's case into, getting the 15-minute-fame she craves, like the guests of a Jerry Springer show she likes watching.

The characters are all pretty vivid and realistic, aside from the two protagonists, there aren't really any good guys or bad guys, just shades of grey, thus making the case even more complicated. I think because Ben Affleck himself is an actor, he gets to communicate effectively with his own cast, wringing out good performances from all of them.

But as I said before, what I like most about the film is its great morally ambiguous ending. It's the type of ending that sparks debates and not one that can be easily dismissed.

Ben Affleck should stick more to directing than acting :D

Anyway, this post isn't really a review, and more an attempt to discuss the ending. So if you intend to watch the film, don't go any further.

If you don't intend to check out the film, you can read on.

** WARNING!! GONE BABY GONE SPOILERS ** After finding the girl and her kidnapper, Patrick was faced with a moral dilemma at the end of the film. The kidnapper and his wife genuinely want to shower the little girl with love, and the little girl looks happy with them. The little girl's mother, on the other hand, is neglectful and alcoholic. Should he report the the cops, so the kidnapper is arrested, and the girl returned to her real mother? Or should he just turn away, knowing that the kidnapper will do his best to give the girl a happy life? Patrick sided with the law, because no matter what, the little girl was indeed kidnapped from her real mother. Consequences were painful, he breaks up with Angie, and returns the girl to her mother. But the girl's mother remains the same. Alcoholic and neglectful, leaving a 4-year-old girl alone at home while she goes off for a date. It's unlikely the mother would treat her own daughter as well as the kidnappers would have. So did Patrick make the wrong choice? Should he opt to pretend that he didn't see anything and turn away from the kidnapper? I asked myself the same question after the film and I'm just not so sure. Regardless of intentions, the kidnapper did break the law, masterminded a conspiracy to attempt murder etc etc. I myself actually lean more towards what Patrick did in the film. The last shot is open to interpretation: Patrick and little girl Amanda are left at home while Helene goes off for a date. Did he damn Amanda's existence by doing what was lawfully right? Of course, he could still fill in to do what Helene, the real mother, was incapable of doing by actually choosing to look after the girl. (in the ending, he was only doing it for one night, but hey, we won't know what will happen after that) Hope anyone else who had seen it can join the discussion.