Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gone Baby Gone

Gone Baby Gone is a bold film. Not just for its subject, but also for the way it chooses to deal with it. A 4 year old kid called Amanda has been kidnapped. The media has taken an interest and the Police have spent two days with no leads. The lost kid's aunt then approaches two small time private detectives, Patrick Kenzie and Angelo Gennaro, because they know the neighbourhood and will not scare off prospective witnesses. Kenzie wants to take it up, but his lover and associate Gennaro, is against it. She doesn't want to get involved in a case that has the possibility of ending with the molested corpse of a 4 year old. But she concedes when she finds the aunt inconsolable.

They get into the procedural, finding better prospects than the police because they know the people of the locality who are willing to confide into them, rumour and gossip, what they will not to the police. And like Col. Hans Landa puts it so evocatively in Inglourious Basterds, "Facts can be so misleading, but rumours, true or false, are often revealing." So, they pitch the knowledge they've gathered from one source to another to either confirm the statement or to negate it. What they seem to be doing is take a public consensus to verify the if facts are really facts. The family of the abducted child is a mess, her mother a coke addict, and they stumble upon a likely suspect and reason for the kidnap. Their investigation gets them into mild trouble, and they seem to be hitting the right notes, because soon enough, Captain Jack Doyle and Detective Sergeant Remy Bressant, get a warning call from the likely abductor. A trade off is suggested and the detectives, with the police, reach the spot with ransom.

Till here, the movie is rather predictable, if not dull, but as a shootout ensues and the girl is feared to be killed, the point at which the detectives and consequently movie is expected to move on, here Affleck, the director, truly enters. He grabs a case that's slipped away, a film that's already past its dramatic high, and then turns it into a spectacular second half where characters' true motivations are revealed, where nothing is what it seems to be and it becomes increasingly hard to differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong. The twists and turns in the plot are not just narrative devices but revelations that we see through the eyes of Patrick who seems to be obsessed with the case and is walking deeper into danger every passing moment. The screenplay is astounding, because while it creates tension and works really well on a purely cinematic level, the story deserves this approach.

Who are good men and who are not, why they act in some ways and what are the reasons behind their actions, Affleck treads into slippery ground, gently but assuredly because he knows how good his actors are and how powerful his story is. The characters that we begin by despising and the others by admiring, switch sides to and fro, and by the end it boils down to not why people acted the way they did but how the repercussions of their actions are affecting others' lives. Everybody hates child molesters, people who abuse children and that is the easier part. But in as complicated a world as ours, it is harder to pinpoint why those people act the way they do, their motivations and intentions hazy, and how do we find a right solution for the problems that we, as a society, have gotten ourselves into.

The premise is important. The plot, well etched. Acting is top class and the direction, steady. This is a very powerful film from Affleck. I liked his Argo, though I found his style too cold and distant for the dramatic script, this is perfect material for his sensibilities. And though one is reminded regularly of Eastwood's style of direction, maybe more so because he directed another one of Dennis Lehane's haunting stories in Mystic River, Affleck has an interesting way of getting us to think. A great watch.

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