Directed by Ben Affleck. 2007.

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When Amanda McCready (Madeline O'Brien), a four-year-old girl, goes missing from her Boston residence for three days and Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), the head of the police’s Crimes Against Children’s Unit whose own daughter was kidnapped and murdered, is unable to produce any suspects, two private detectives are hired by the little girl’s Aunt Bea (Amy Madigan) and Uncle Lionel (Titus Welliver). Somewhat reluctantly, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and his partner Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) agree to take the case even though they are aware that Amanda’s distraught mother Helene (Amy Ryan) is a cocaine addict with nefarious connections. 

Crime dramas, police procedurals, and suspense thrillers usually bombard us with buckets full of murder and mayhem but rarely stop to question the morality of vigilante justice. That is what makes Ben Affleck’s Gone Baby Gone such a rarity. Co-written by Aaron Stockard and based on a Dennis Lehane novel, it is a film that asks us to think about whether a noble purpose justifies an illegal act and whether murder is any more justified if dispensed by those in charge of public safety than by ruthless criminals. The first half of the film is gritty and authentic in its depiction of the mean streets of South Boston and Affleck’s credibility in the role is enhanced by an understated vulnerability which masks his quiet power. 

Working with veteran detective Remy Bressant (Ed Harris) and his partner Nick Poole (John Ashton), they follow leads to the local bar. Utilizing his local connections, Patrick uncovers the fact that Helene has stolen a large amount of money from a Haitian gangster named Cheese (Edi Gathegi) and they suspect that he is holding the little girl for ransom. Though a raid on Cheese’s apartment yields no results, a subsequent phone call sets up a meeting to transfer the money for Amanda but the exchange is botched. From here, the film wanders into unexplored territory that is guaranteed to be a major topic of discussion. 

Impeccably acted by an outstanding ensemble cast, Gone Baby Gone is a powerful film that keeps us riveted until the end. Though some may question the veracity of the twist ending, it does raise pertinent issues about how best to protect the innocence of children in a society in which 2,000 children are reported missing every day. Turning from a standard kidnapping narrative, the film raises issues of the interests of society versus individual rights, and whether the end can ever justify the means. 


Howard Schumann
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