“What happens when wrong feels right and right feels wrong? When situations that appear to be black and white turn out to be gray?” (The Literary Analyst).The bygone philosophy of novelists writing what they desire stands firm. For me, a director holds the same status when it comes to films, in fact all artists irrespective of their desired form of art should have the liberty to think and make people do the same. This perfectly sounds true of Ben Affleck’s triumphant and remarkable debut in Gone Baby Gone (2007), which is an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s heavily acclaimed book, which lies fourth in a series of novels featuring the Boston based private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angela Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan). The author is also credited for writing the Mystic River which in turn was also made into a movie by the legendary actor-director Clint Eastwood. He has personally addressed Gone Baby Gone as his most preferred among the others he has penned and that is truly revealed through his critical observation and prolific skill, vibrant throughout the movie.
Ben Affleck through his work reveals his minutely observant self that has captured every aspect of Boston life much like Martin Scorcese’s vigilance on New York. “Working-class Boston is portrayed in a pseudo-realist opening sequence of urban ennui and alienation” (Tony D’Ambra). What is truly amazing in the movie is the way Ben Affleck portrays every gritty detail of Boston life, however the fact that both the director and his brother Casey Affleck (Patrick Kenzie) were born in the Massachusetts city has a considerable role to play for the former’s vision, which results in a movie which stands raw and visceral in comparison to many other movies made on the Bostonian life.
In the beginning and throughout the course of the movie we primarily come across the people of Boston living their regular lives, unaltered, rather than actors performing their roles. This verisimilitude shown through the movie makes it lucrative. The frequent twists in the film are more a result of the moral enigmas rather than the narrative aspect. The community plays a significant role in the movie; the atmosphere created through the different complicities and steadily rising motivations of the characters, takes this movie to unfathomable heights and makes it one of the best debuts for any filmmaker around the world. Having not too many good movies to boast about as an actor, Ben Affleck through the movie takes a strong stance behind the camera, the outcome of which is a mature movie that enwraps the mind of the viewers with the different complicities in the plot entwined with prolific directorial skills. But it’s just not the director that determines the fate of a movie; even the actors do not complete the frame. Every person involved in the making of this movie has done absolute justice to expectation; Aaron Stockard’s contribution to the screenplay has been no short of spectacular as well.
In a nutshell, the Story deals with the abduction of a four year old girl (Amanda) while at home without the supervision of her mother Helene, apparently gone to the neighbors. A massive search is launched by the police, led by Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) who also has company in the two private investigators (Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro) who are set to purpose by the victim’s aunt (Amy Madigan).Upon looking in the case, Patrick discovers that Helene was actually not at the neighbors in the hour of the crime but at the Filmore Lounge doing narcotics with her boyfriend. Suspicion arises as to who might have done the deed, including people who could have wanted something from Helene, the prime suspect being a drug dealer called Cheese, who is in search for money that is owed. From a pretty much simple plot of a girl being abducted and a rescue being planned, the movie takes a steep turn towards more unexpected complicacies. The most interesting thing about Gone Baby Gone lies within the fact that that it penetrates the superficial layers of crime mystery and reflects upon the different aspects of human mind, the choices made, the negligence displayed and the silent repentance. It goes beyond an expected outcome of obvious murder scenario to a captivating of child neglect. The primary objective of the movie does not lie upon the detection and solving of the case, it does not hover around the different details related to the crime as well, it rather focuses upon different choices made and their outcomes varying from the initial one, it concerns with that fine thread that separates right and wrong. It has certain distinct features of Film Noir as well. Perceived through the sustaining ambiguity and tension, the darker aspects of human mind discovered through the length of the movie.
Gone Baby Gone is not the average crime movie that has the elements of Film Noir in it. “This is not your average run the mill crime novel (or movie)” (The Literary Analyst). Rather, it is a statement on the flimsy rules of our society, and where and how they may collide against the normal human morality. The overall atmosphere of both Lehane’s novel, as well as that of Affleck’s debut directorial is not too bright. One may even go to the extent of saying that the atmosphere is of impending doom, or a rather it has a dark and gloomy air about it. The fact that an innocent little child has gone missing, is what sets the tone for the rest of the plot. Now, in the case of the movie, the dark air is not imparted in any special manner at the beginning through any form of lighting that is typical to Film Noir or Neo Noir movies. On the contrary, the movie starts in daylight – something which is extremely for Noir. Both Lehane and Affleck have been intelligent enough to let the main plot in the story fill the reader’s or audience’s mind with a sense of gloom – an innocent little girl has gone missing.
This sense of gloom is magnified a thousand-fold by Captain Jack Doyle’s words – “A four-year-old child is on the street. Itsseventy six hours, and counting. And the prospects for where she might be are beginning to look grim, you understand? Half of all the children in these cases are killed, flat out. If we don’t catch the abductor by day one, only about 10% are ever solved. This is day three.” These couple of dialogues sends a chill down the very depths of the spine of everyone who reads or watches it. This typifies the darkness within the novel and the film. It is not plainly visible, but we all know that it is there. We do not know what exactly this darkness is, which is why we are even more afraid of it – the author and the director plays with our fear of the unknown. We are so horrified by the crime, that we cannot even begin to imagine the fate of little Amanda McCready (played by Madeline O’Brien). Also, the way Morgan Freeman delivers this dialogue on screen perhaps even heightens this effect – no pomp, or fan-fare. Just the simple stats, mixed with our empathy for the child.
The indoor lighting in the movie, which mostly consists of neon or yellow lighting also helps to contribute to the neo-noir aspect, although most of the crucial action takes place outdoor, or during the daytime in the story line. However Ben Affleck has very cleverly injected the movie with these noir elements at some very crucial points in the plot-line. We find that the transitions between certain scenes are done with the help of a wide-angle outdoor shot of a horizon or a city skyline, showing day turning into night. These transitions, one may say are placed in significant places in the plot of the movie so that the audience gets the feeling of impending doom, or perhaps the more pragmatic of the audience would at least get the feeling of the plot thickening.
The noir elements in Gone Baby Gone are not just present through mere transition scenes. There are a few scenes which, as mentioned before, are extremely crucial to the plot. The noir elements in these scenes are not as subtle as the noir setting. For example, the scene at Cheese’s headquarters is the first time in the movie, that an important piece of action actually takes place at night, or after sunset, providing us with ample opportunity to feast on the noir aspects. The lighting, the faint beat of music and even the Cheese’s girl adds to the noir aspect of the scene. Other than this, the shootout at Quincy Quarry is especially dark, as most of what happens over there is in utter confusion, and total darkness. Affleck successfully manages to capture the confusion of the event with jerky camera movements, as Patrick and Angie run to the aid of Detectives Bressant and Poole. This jerky camera movement is especially significant as we later realize that it implied not just the general confusion in a shootout, but also the false confusion created by the ring of cops to put the private detectives off from what really happened. Also, the shootout at the Tretts’ residence, and the scene prior to that where Patrick and Bubba go to the Tretts’ to sell cocaine, are lit up with a mixture of classic noir and neon lighting, i.e. with the proper amount of neon light, but also with an ample amount of shadows playing on the character’s faces wherever required.
Other than the background light setting, a couple of scenes might strike the audience as either classic Film Noir or Neo-Noir. For example, after Detective Poole’s death at the hospital, there is a scene where we see the silhouetted reflection of Patrick on a glass window or a door (it is not clear which). Patrick is looking at his own silhouetted reflection. Perhaps this signifies that he is merely a shadow of himself after killing Corwin Earle (Mathew Maher), a child molester. Also, after the shootout at the bar, where Bressant is shot by the bartender, Patrick chases the Detective up to the rooftop. Here we see a shadow of Patrick holding a gun, on the wall, along with Patrick himself. However, there is one exception in the noir aspect in the aforementioned scenario. This scene is shot during the day time, which perhaps does not make it completely a Film Noir element. This is noir or neo-noir technique, with the director playing with the actual character and his shadow. Perhaps this shadow on some level brings into question the morality of human actions, even if they are on the wrong side of the rules.
However, the noir elements of the movie do not ensure that the novel by Dennis Lehane would have the same, as Ben Affleck has not rigidly followed the plot laid out by the former. It is just as well, perhaps, as all artists should be given their own space to express themselves, or to portray a certain idea, or a feeling, that would grow to define that piece of work as his own. This is why there are a number of differences in the plot-line between the movie and the novel. Following are a few of them.
First of all, Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard have, for some reason, changed the name of the two Detectives from Remy Broussard and Nick “Poole” Raftopoulous to Remy Bressant and Nick Poole respectively. Also, the Lehane wrote about Helene McCready and her boyfriend, Skinny Ray stealing two hundred thousand dollars from Cheese, the Haitian drug dealer, while the latter was in prison, whereas Affleck and Stockard changed that to Helene and Ray stealing one hundred and thirty thousand dollars from Cheese, while peddling heroin and cocaine for the Drug Lord (who is not in prison).
One of the major additions to the movie script was the addition of the abduction of a seven-year-old boy in the Everett area, which is not present in the book. Here, we find Patrick finding the pedophile, Corwin Earle, who admits that he has killed the boy by mistake. In a fit of blind rage, Patrick shoots Earle from point blank range, and kills him. The moral conflict that the movie adds is that even though everybody praises Patrick, for not sticking to the rules and killing the child molester, somewhere, deep inside he feels that he himself has done the wrong thing, by killing another human being. This moral conflict would later lead him on to exposing the conspiracy among Captain Jack Doyle, Detective Remy Bressant (or Broussard), Detective Nick Poole (Raftopoulous) and Lionel McCready. Although he knew that this illegal activity (an isolated event in the case of the movie, but a racket in the case of the novel) was ultimately putting abused children in a better home, Patrick decides not to turn a blind eye to the “illegal” aspect of this event. Perhaps on some level, the private detective felt that he should have been punished by law for murdering Corwin Earle, which is what prompted him turning to the law.
However, when he goes to visit the McCreadys after Amanda has been returned to her mother, he finds that nothing has changed. Helene is still neglectful of her child – she even uses slangs in front of her own infant, as if the latter were not there. The biggest indication that nothing has changed, is when Patrick asks Amanda (pointing to her doll), “Is that Mirabelle?” and Amanda replies, “Annabelle.” It is quite clear from this that Amanda’s mother completely neglects her, and is busy living her own life. We may very well assume what Captain Doyle had to say a few scenes back – “She’ll (Amanda) be (30 years later) dragging around a couple of tattered, damaged children of her own, and you’ll (Patrick) be the one who has to tell them you’re sorry.”
This inner conflict between rule and morality within the protagonist is perhaps what lends Lehane’s novel its noir aspect. It is clear at the end that Patrick is torn apart from within to see Amanda being neglected by her mother, just like she was neglected before she was abducted. This conflict is not just within Patrick. It is also a conflict between Patrick and Angie – the former standing up for the rules of the society, while the latter stands for the morality within human hearts. Morality loses out in the end, and we seem to find more solace in “Fascist violence as urban justice” (Tony D’Ambra) rather than the actual justice through a fair trial itself.
Taking all these points into consideration, it would perhaps not be too unjust to say that the movie, directed by Ben Affleck is more noir than the novel by Dennis Lehane. Affleck went out of the way, and out of Lehane’s original plot-line to amend the original story, to add certain sub-plots. These sub plots (e.g.the abduction of the seven-year-old boy and Patrick killing Earle) helped the director to magnify the inert darkness that was already present within Lehane’s original story. However, this in no way means that the novel is not noir. The novel is after all, a brilliant noir fiction, which provided Ben Affleck with a level platform to create a movie that was truly surreal within the neo-noir genre.
Alan Silver, Elizabeth Ward. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Overtook TP, 1993.
Mayer, Geoff. Encyclopedia of Film Noir.Greenwood Press, 2007. Print.
“Book Review: Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane”. The Literary Analyst, 2010. Web
Tommy D’Ambra. “Post-Noir: The New Hollow Men”. Film Noir. Web
Michael Henley. “Gone Baby Gone”. Time-Travelling Film Critic. Web