Gone Baby Gone
The first scene of Gone Baby Gone begins with main character Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) musing, "It's the things you don't choose that make you who you are."
While this opening narration argues that a person's family, nationality and even neighborhood create a person, it's the silence at the end of the film that points to what later changes a person: choice.
It's a simple final shot—a quiet moment of Kenzie watching TV on a couch—but it says volumes about the moral choice the Boston private investigator just made. And incredibly, in our era of media loudly telling audiences how to think, these volumes are left up to interpretation. Did he do the right thing? Would he do the same again? Is the film arguing he was wrong—or right?
Director Ben Affleck says the climactic moral dilemma—and ambiguity—is the very reason he chose to make this book adaptation the first movie he directed. "I wanted a character who makes a choice that will change the course of his life," Affleck told a screening audience. "And I didn't want to tip the scales with what I would have done or what I think of his choice. I wanted the audiences to ask themselves the big questions."
Like other recent down-and-dirty Boston crime dramas (Mystic River, The Departed), Gone Baby Gone is a kind of modern slum noir—a twisty and ambiguous tale set in a dark, profane world with no real black and white, but lots of gray. The f-bombs are constant. Most characters (besides the pretty leads) are awkward, unattractive and common. Drugs, sex and violence are stocks in trade. And no one is a complete boy scout. But in all this ugly realness, the moral dilemmas that frame the second half make it more than an unflinching display of bloody darkness. Instead, it's a redeeming and weighty exploration of justice, the cycle of poverty, and ends justifying their means.
Based on the fourth book in a series by author Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River), the film follows Kenzie as he and his investigative partner/lover Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) are hired by a family to assist the police investigation of a missing four-year-old girl. Almost immediately, these private eyes prove helpful to the head of a kids' crimes police unit (Morgan Freeman) and two rough-and-tumble cops (Ed Harris and John Ashton).
Because they are neighborhood natives, Kenzie and Gerraro are specially equipped to talk to residents who won't talk to cops. That said, they work for justice in a dark world. Early on, Kenzie gives up his secret to balancing morality with what must be done. He says he once asked his priest how to get to heaven but still protect oneself and family. In reply, Kenzie says, his priest recited Matthew 10:16: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (NIV). This seems to be a mission statement for the young scrappy investigator.
Now, Kenzie is no Christian poster boy. He's not perfect, and he's surely not living a consistent godly life—but he's clearly a soul struggling to balance faith with real life. He doesn't seem like a mere nominal Christian who goes to church, but lives as he chooses—instead, the two Afflecks paint this character as a man with much going on in his heart. Someone's knocking there. He's working out his faith with fear and trembling. He's guided by a moral compass. And he seems to be constantly processing advice and truth parlayed by his unseen priest and weighing it against the starkly different street justice all around him. He seems to be constantly trying to figure out what "shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves" looks like. But can that really be achieved?