DVD Release Date:  February 12, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  October 19, 2007
Rating:  R (for violence, drug content and pervasive language)
Genre:  Drama/Mystery/Action
Run Time:  118 minutes
Director:  Ben Affleck
Actors:  Casey Affleck, Michelle Monoghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, John Ashton, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, Michael K. Williams, Edi Gathegi, and Madeline O’Brien

Remember when the public schools started teaching “values clarification” in class?  In order to encourage kids to explore their personal values and to become tolerant of others’ values, teachers tossed out various scenarios, like “Of these three people in an impending plane crash, which one should get the parachute and live?”  We had to scratch our heads and make tough, moral decisions about what we’d do in each case.

In the same way, Gone Baby Gone (based on Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name) beckons us to play God right along with the protagonist and ask ourselves what hard decision we would make about the life and well-being of a little kidnapped girl.  That’s the fascinating part of this movie, which happens about two-thirds of the way through the film. Before that, it’s a little hard to suffer through the grit, violence, language, drug and alcohol abuse that’s portrayed as part of the street life in Boston. 

The story is about Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), a young detective who gets hired by a distraught aunt (Amy Madigan) to find a missing four-year-old girl, Amanda (Madeline O’Brien).  Though Patrick assures her that he’s more of the chasing-down-guys-who’ve-reneged-on-their-car-loans kind of detective, the woman insists on using his services.  He, along with his live-in girlfriend, Angie (Michelle Monaghan), go meet the child’s single mother, Helene (Amy Ryan), whom they find is a rough-around-the-edges single mom drug abuser with a serious potty mouth.

They team up with two police force detectives (Ed Harris and John Ashton) and begin uncovering a scary web of entanglement that involves some shady dealings on the part of the mom, her ex-boyfriend, a known Haitian drug dealer, and some mystery players.  No one on the police force—not even the Captain (Morgan Freeman)—believe that the young, inexperienced detective can solve the crime, but Patrick makes a promise to the rough-but-grieving mom to find her daughter.

Patrick relies on his Catholic faith and the words of his priest as he struggles through several key decisions along the way. He uses his connections in the Boston ‘hood to glean some information that no one else can get, and soon he stumbles upon some horrendous information that could shake up the case on a number of levels. He finds himself face-to-face with a huge decision, the outcome of which would severely affect several innocent lives—including his own—forever.

Gone Baby Gone will likely be difficult for some moviegoers to see.  The obscenities and profanities are so excessive that we stopped counting them altogether.  It seems the screenwriter has a “When in doubt, throw in another ‘F word’” philosophy, and the language is so excessively foul that it hugely overshadows some very good thematic points that could be made.

Also, why do audiences have to be exposed to blatant drug use?  How does it help for our teenagers to see exactly how to snort a line of cocaine?  If they have any doubt about how to do it in the first act, they’ll have plenty more opportunities to take notes in the second and third.

There’s also a disturbing tone throughout the film:  a bunch of dark, lost people trying to manage their way through life’s issues.  Angry bartenders, deformed alcoholics, obese drug abusers, half-retarded child molesters, etc.—the darkest, shadiest elements of society are being rubbed in our faces.  The movie does become extremely interesting, but not until the third act.  Prior to that, it’s a “Don’t I see enough of this on the eleven o'clock news every night?” kind of feeling.

Overall, Gone Baby Gone might be recommended for older adults (with strong stomachs for raunch) who want an interesting case study in values clarification, but no child should be taken to see it.  As a matter of fact, there’s one extremely disturbing, but brief, shot of a dead child (who’s been molested), lying in the bathtub of his kidnapper/molester.  Need we say more?

The filmmakers are to be commended for raising serious questions for thought about values, and they do point to the protagonist’s relatively strong faith as the basis for his moral absolutes.  But, again, getting there is a rough road to travel.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Alcohol and drugs portrayed excessively.
  • Language:  Excessive, with well over 75 obscenities and profanities
  • Sex:  Couple is living together outside marriage, but nothing shown; allusion to child having been sexually molested, with no sex shown, but dead child seen in tub.
  • Violence:  Bar fights, slapping, hitting, screaming, allusion to violence toward children.
  • Worldview:  Relativistic.  Right and wrong are not so clear; it’s all about the situation.