Gone Baby Gone

starring Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris
written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard and directed by Ben Affleck
rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language.

Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck’s directorial debut and his first screenwriting credit since Good Will Hunting, is something special. I guess some people just belong behind the camera rather than in front of it (just look at Mel Brooks). I expect and hope for Oscar nominations. It is definitely reminiscent of Mystic River and The Departed, both of which are also set in Boston and deal with crime in a very R-rated manner, but this is the better film. Both of the other films feel like talented people trying to make a Great Movie (note the self-conscious style of the The Departed and the carefully cast relationships of Mystic River). Gone Baby Gone frequently makes you forget that you’re even watching a movie. There are obviously genuine Bostonians mixed in as extras, but the riveting performances are so skillful it’s very difficult to tell where the extras end and the actors begin.

On the surface this is a story about a 4-year-old girl who disappears without a trace, her screwed-up family, the officers who try to find her (Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris) and Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan), 2 private investigators hired by the girl’s aunt to help. That story keeps you glued to your seat, but the deeper questions are what will really stick with you later. Gone Baby Gone was not afraid to train an uncomfortably close lens on everything I’ve ever believed about morality, and I say that as someone who has, by turns, seen value in both situational ethics and a commitment to moral absolutes. The movie presents us with seemingly impossible ethical choices, where either decision could turn out to be mostly right or tragically wrong, and it never gives us an easy solution. Many of those questions will probably haunt me for some time to come. It is the sort of movie that should be seen with good friends and discussed seriously and at great length afterwards.

In the end, Patrick does what he believes to be the right thing, even though he may be the only one (among the characters on screen and the audience members in the theater) who thinks so. I couldn’t confidently say whether he made the right decision, but I was personally convicted by the strength of his moral courage. I can’t remember the last movie I saw which displayed so unflinchingly that doing what you think is right is necessarily easy to do or easy to live with afterwards. Affleck (as quoted in the Christianity Today review) declared, “I wanted a character who makes a choice that will change the course of his life, 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.” I heartily applaud his vision and its successful realization.

But speaking of Christian reviews of the film, I have to note an instance of very poor judgment on the part of Focus on the Family’s “Plugged In.” As I noted above, Gone Baby Gone is rated R for a reason. Aside from a great deal of language and some violence, it deals rather frankly with sex crimes and is at times difficult to watch as a result. Tallying these sorts of things is the reason “Plugged In” exists, and although I think it is a terrible approach, I have often found it useful to know more about what I’m going to see (particularly when bringing others along with me). However, their ultimate assessment of a film is what I tend to find objectionable. In this case, the conclusion to their review confidently asserts that “Gone Baby Gone wants us to hate [Patrick’s] decision,” and goes on to conclude very quickly and easily that he obviously made the right decision and that the movie promotes vigilantism and anarchy and all sorts of other icky things.

I don’t really know whether they expect to be taken seriously as reviewers, but lacking a modicum of personal insight you’d think they could at least do a minimal amount of research (like, say, Christianity Today did). To take such a powerful and admirable example of doing the right thing even when you have every reason not to and flip it around to use as yet another example of amoral Hollywood values (they lump it in with recent shallow vigilante fantasies Death Sentence, The Brave One, and We Own the Night) is pretty shoddy. In fact, nothing could stand in starker contrast to the long tradition of facile trigger-pulling exemplified by the above titles than Gone Baby Gone, and I encourage you to see it if you can handle the raw content.

As for “Plugged In,” I briefly considered removing them from my sidebar because I really don’t want to direct people to their site as though I thought they had anything of value to contribute to the dialogue between faith and film. But for the time being I will continue visiting the site and reading what they have to say, even though I may (and usually do) disagree. Unlike “Plugged In” I find a great deal of value in listening carefully and respectfully to people I disagree with, and I have faith in the personal discernment of my audience. If they say something outrageous, you’ll catch it too. The link stays . . . for now.

~ by Jared on October 25, 2007.

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