I have been thinking a lot lately about healthy arguments. Our current world seems to be a place where healthy arguments do not commonly exist. (If you do not believe that, try asking anyone about any hot button political issue in a public setting.) People either retreat to their safety bubbles or extricate themselves from the argument more often these days. Maybe we can return to healthy arguments when it is about something fictional like in this month’s subject: Gone Baby Gone (2007, dir. Ben Affleck).
Gone Baby Gone is the story of the abduction of 4-year-old Amanda McCready from her Boston home. Her mother Helene (a criminally un-Oscar-ed Amy Ryan – I get viscerally upset when I talk about this film and remember that she did not win the Oscar for her performance even though Tilda Swinton is fantastic in Michael Clayton) is not going to win any mother of year awards as she is a drug addict with a very hard edge to her. Her sister (beautifully subtle Amy Madigan) hires local private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) to “augment the police investigation,” which is being led by Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (John Ashton) under the command of special child abduction unit captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman). The story takes several twists and turns as we learn more about who took Amanda and why and what those implications are.
While this film marks Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, it feels incredibly familiar to his style if you know anything about his past. He came to prominence in Hollywood on the strength of his screen writing work (along with Matt Damon) on Good Will Hunting. Like that film, Gone Baby Gone is set in Boston and features some people going through some pretty difficult lives and surviving however they must. These are themes that would come back for Affleck a few years later in The Town.
What I find fascinating about this film is the moralistic questions that it raises. I believe this to be a film that elicits healthy arguments by the end. There are several key moments where you can ask that ubiquitous thoughtful filmgoer question: “what would I do?” Though it may be better couched under “is what character x did right?” Without giving too much away, I believe the ultimate climax to be the main one of those times, but you also can have that debate about where Helene ends up after the end of the film, whether Patrick was right to do what he does on the second abduction case, even early on with the decision to hire private detectives instead of letting the police solve the case.
If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend watching it in a group of people and allowing yourself time to discuss afterwards. It is a very intense watch that gets into some very dark aspects of society in a very in-depth way. (Another reason to watch in a group: there is emotional safety in numbers that way.) If you must watch it alone, reach out to me afterwards. I love a healthy argument and will happily go down that path when discussing this film.
FUN FACT – The Boston accent is a notoriously tough one to nail for non-natives. Amy Ryan was late to the set on her first day because she was mistaken for a fan by security. This is partly due to the New York actor’s spot-on Boston accent.
Just Watch says that Gone Baby Gone is available to stream on HBO Max, DirecTV, and Subs. It is also available for rent/purchase on most other common platforms.