Friday, October 16, 2009

“I will hate you for doing this, and I don’t want to…”

Ugly, messy, morally ambiguous, and philosophically complex Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone is slowly becoming my favorite film of 2007. I missed its initial run in theaters, and I didn’t catch it until well after I had constructed my top 10 list for 2007 (with the bad ass trifecta of Zodiac, No Country for Old Men, and Eastern Promises as my top three), but I caught the film on DVD when it first came out and loved it, retroactively (in my mind) placed it in my top 5 for that year (because I’m kind of crazy and OCD like that). After watching the film again tonight on Starz I realize that we’re dealing with a masterpiece here. The film is gorgeous to look at (as gorgeous as the slums of Boston can be), and the elder Affleck shows a real command of filmmaking. He frames each shot perfectly, knows precisely when to cut, knows how to set up a scene, and when to change styles; and perhaps most importantly knows when to sit back and let his amazing ensemble cast do the heavy lifting.

More thoughts after the jump...

And heavy lifting it is…by the climax, the film is so interested in letting its two main characters, private investigators (who also happen to be dating) played by Casey Affleck (in a phenomenal performance…watch the way he out-acts Morgan Freeman at the end of this film) and Michelle Monaghan, discuss the moral repercussions of certain decisions, and allowing the audience to decide which side of the philosophical argument they sit, that we’ve pretty much forgotten the complexity of the police procedural that comes before the final moments of the film. The dichotomy that Affleck the director sets up at the end of the film is so much more interesting and taut than a shoot out, or any kind of big “crack-in-the-case” type moment. That’s not a knock on the writing, because the film does a great job of laying it all out there and not drawing attention to any of the clues (only do we know they’re clues when we re-visit the film)…the film respects its audiences intelligence level – and that’s rare for a mainstream thriller.

But that ending…damn I love that ending…executed perfectly by Affleck the director and little brother Casey who has a heart shattering moment with his girlfriend (Monaghan) where the two just don’t see eye to eye on an issue. Watch the way Monaghan poignantly pleas with her partner, stating her case through tears…then watch how Affleck rigidly sticks to his guns despite the pleas from the woman he loves. This is a bigger issue for him than what your significant other wants you to do…this is about what is morally right, and this wrestling with morality isn’t as cut and dry as most Hollywood dramas would have you think.

The issue in question (which I won’t spoil too much in case you haven’t seen the movie) changes the lives of four people, and whether it’s for better or worse Affleck and co. leave that for you to decide. Has there ever been a mainstream thriller that’s ended on such an ambiguous note? That final shot sticks with you long after you’ve seen the film (and the final line, too, where Affleck’s character realizes he made a mistake), and perhaps will lead to a heated post-film debate (like the one Affleck and Monaghan engage in at the end of the film) about the decision that is ultimately made, and the limits of morality we are willing to push (or not willing) in order to protect someone from what we may perceive as a bad situation. The film leaves you in a state of contemplation (that final shot is perfect)…contemplating things (and second guessing decisions) that may not be so sunny and neatly wrapped-up; things that may be ugly and ambiguous. Just like life.


  1. "The film leaves you in a state of contemplation (that final shot is perfect)…contemplating things (and second guessing decisions) that may not be so sunny and neatly wrapped-up; things that may be ugly and ambiguous. Just like life."

    Well said! I couldn't agree more. This one of those stealth films that snuck up on me. I too caught up with it on home video and was blown away by it. In some respects, it would make a good double bill with MYSTIC RIVER -- both morally challenging films set in Boston (aren't they adapted from books by the same author?).

    And who woulda thought Affleck could be such a good director? I really liked how he provided local color by casting people who look and act the part. Affleck doesn’t try to get too fancy with camera angles or movements and remembers that the story is the most important thing.

  2. You really ought to check out Lehane's novels. They're all pretty great and Darkness Take My Hand is just as good as Gone Baby Gone.

    The thing about Lehane's books both in this series and out of it, is the way the whodunnit rarely matters much in the end. He's all about putting his characters in situations where they have to make terrible choices, and watches as they try to escape with enough grace to look themselves in the mirror.

    My only problem with GBG is Affleck and Monaghan did such a good job I can't imagine anyone else in the rolls now. And thanks to the fact that Affleck made this one first, it's kind of difficult to follow up.

  3. J.D.:

    I agree with you...the film really snuck up on me. Ben Affleck seems to have a good career in front of him as a director. Mystic River was adapted from a novel by the same author (Dennis Lehane) who also wrote the soon-to-be-released Scorsese horror flick Shutter Island.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Evil Dead Junkie:

    I'm really interested in reading the other novels about these private investigators. I'm assuming they have to work their way backwards now if they make more into movies (Gone Baby Gone felt like the last one in the series), but maybe not...something I remember reading when the film came out was that Affleck did take some liberties with the story when he writing the script.

    I like your assessment of how Lehane writes his novels:

    the whodunnit rarely matters much in the end. He's all about putting his characters in situations where they have to make terrible choices, and watches as they try to escape with enough grace to look themselves in the mirror.

    Wonderfully stated. That's my favorite part about the ending to Gone Baby Gone...there are no easy answers.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I'm in the same boat as everyone else...great movie and I think Affleck should have gotten some award consideration when it was released. He's filming his next film now, another crime picture based on a bestselling book (Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan) - here's hoping he's on a run instead of a 1-act show.

  6. So I'd missed this movie in the theater and it was buried in my Netflix list, but based on this review (I only read three sentences in), I bumped it up to the top.

    And, wow, I thought it was absolutely painful. I actually said out loud as I was turning it off: "There isn't a single good scene in that whole fucking movie." But that's not true, because I agree with you that the FINAL scene is a great one. But by then it isn't worth anything.

    Things I hated ...

    * The acting. Save for Amy Ryan, it's all bad.

    * The writing. Sorry, buddy. This film doesn't respect our intelligence, which is precisely why it includes unnecessary flashbacks to the conspirators conspiring, as if we couldn't figure out what that looked like.

    * The acting. Did I mention that the acting is pathetic? Casey Affleck is great in The Assassination of Jesse James, but his tough-guy routine in this film is laughable. And I never, ever for a second believed that the girlfriend (Monaghan) was a young Jessica Fletcher. This whole film felt like a movie based on a John Grisham novel. Fun in print. Utterly unbelievable on the screen.

    * The score: It's a blatant Shawshank Redemption rip-off. As Morgan Freeman gave his first speech in his office I was waiting for Andy Dufresne to walk in.

    * The philosophy: Is this really an exercise in ethics? Sure, anyone would love to be kidnapped by Morgan Freeman. That makes it seem like there's actually a decision to be made here. But if Morgan Freeman would kidnap a child, that would make him a dick. So there you go.

    * Other stuff: Please break down the scene in which Ed Harris goes into the bar with a mask on and explain (a) what he was planning to do; (b) why he didn't do it; (c) why he thought that the great way to flee a crime scene was to climb up several flights of stairs and bleed to death on the roof.

    The only thing this movie was lacking was Al Pacino going over the top.

    My head is spinning.

  7. Jason:

    We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I understand where you're coming from with your displeasure of the script. In fact I actually agree with you about how frustrating it is that they have to replay the entire kidnapping sequence just in case the audience can't figure it out...that frustrated me; however, not so much so that it deterred me from the real moral quandary presented at the end of the film, and this is where I think the script respects the audiences intelligence. I guess I was just more willing to see the shades of gray in the final moments (which you admit you liked).

    This post was primarily about the end of the film, and I think the power of that final sequence elevates the so-so moments like the weird heist scene with Ed Harris and the re-hashing of vital clues. Again, I guess I felt like those things were forgettable in light of the fantastic ending and the great performances throughout the movie.

    I really think that Ben Affleck showed great restraint and control for a first time filmmaker...he certainly did a better job of adapting Lehane than Clint Eastwood did with the operatic and waaaaay over-the-top Mystic River.

    Your Al Pacino line is harsh...but pretty damn funny, so I forgive you. Hehe.

    You lay out a good case here, Jason...but I still think this movie is in the upper echelon of films from 2007. I'm glad my review intrigued you enough to watch this...I'm sorry you had a bad experience because...somehow I feel responsible, hehe.

    Thanks for stopping by. Always great having you around here, Jason.

  8. Agreeing to disagree ... If only all married couples could do this as well as movie fans.

    Obviously I'm not trying to talk you out of your enjoyment/appreciation. I'd have to see Mystic River again to see how I'd compare the two. I've had major problems with Eastwood movies, but that one I kind of liked, in large part because the "waaaaay over-the-top" performances actually felt real to me, even though I agree with the description. Go figure. (In other words: Overrated movie, but one I enjoyed more than GBG.)

    As for Affleck's first film as a director: He does a great job capturing the faces (and bodies) of the locals, putting people on the screen who haven't been nipped and tucked. We usually only get that in the grittiest of indie movies these days, so that was a treat. But it was a mistake for him to use his brother in the lead. I think he sees a more convincing performance than I did.

    Don't feel bad about leading me to the movie. It was in the queue already and Hokahey (who used to live in Boston) had been underwhelmed by it years ago, so I knew there was the potential for it to flop. That's part of what gets me: I went in with pretty modest expectations. If anything, your review is at fault for me saying to myself about six times during the movie: "OK, maybe it starts to get good NOW..." :)

    Thanks for letting me vent.

  9. The Movie is looking good one. I read whole story given by you..quite entertaining..Love to watch this film. I hope I am not disappoint with this film.