Monday, April 17, 2017

Gone Baby Gone

SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.

I chose this 2007 film, directed by Ben Affleck, not only because I believe it was one of the best motion pictures that year, but also because it is a worthy follow-up, in terms of the questions it asks, to last week’s entry, Mississippi Burning. Both movies pose moral dilemmas for their characters when they must decide what they believe are the right actions to take, even if those choices break legal and moral guidelines.
The first shot we see is of a lower-class section of Boston. You can tell it is summer by the bare midriff tops worn by the women, and you can almost smell the perspiration of the inhabitants living in this crowded area, where steaming tempers crave for a chance to blow off. The faces of the people look hardened by the fight for survival here. The first words are a voice-over delivered by the main character, Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck, in a terrific performance). He says, “I always believed it was the things you don’t choose that make you who you are. Your city, your neighborhood, your family.” This is an ironic line, because in the film, the choices people make are the things that end up defining them. He then gets specific about himself, telling us that he, like many others here, have lived their whole lives in this section of town. Thus, he knows the turf, and, since his job is to find missing people, he says, “it helps to know where they started.” He says that these marginal people started in the “cracks” of the society, and then “fell through.” Although Patrick acknowledges that “the city can be hard,” he has not given in to despair, relying on his Catholic faith to help him “get to heaven” without being destroyed by the “evil in the world.” He once asked his priest for guidance, who offered up God’s words: “You are sheep among wolves. Be wise as serpents, yet innocent as doves.” Not an easy task. But, Patrick still believes in innocence, and the hope to escape the evil. His job is a significant one, akin to that of a religious man, trying to save souls before they are irreparably lost.

But, before now, he was just bringing back adult transgressors, who maybe tried to skip out on making payments on what was owed. His life changes when the “innocence” of a four-year-old girl from the neighborhood, Amanda McCready (Madeline O’Brien) is in jeopardy because she is reported missing. We witness the concern from the locals, but the cops and the reporters are there in large numbers, which turn the scene into a media circus, feeding the public’s cannibalistic desire for lurid stories. Patrick’s partner, and love interest, Angie (Michelle Monaghan) comments how horrible the situation is. To which Patrick sarcastically says, “Not for Channel 9.”

Angie asks if Patrick knows Amanda’s mother, Helene (Amy Ryan). Even before we meet Helene, we get an idea of her propensities when Patrick says she performed oral sex on a fourteen-year-old friend of his when they all went to high school together. Patrick says the boy at the time was “innocent and milking cows in Vermont,” a wholesome image of a boy defiled by a seductress. To which Angie says, “I don’t know about innocent.” In this short exchange, we see the difference between these two characters. Patrick can still talk about a world without sin, but that world does not exist for Angie, not even as a memory.

Bea McCready (Amy Madigan) and her husband, Lionel (Titus Welliver), Helene’s brother, visit Patrick and Angie because the neighborhood people, who have had their criminal brushes with the law, are not forthcoming with the police. They want these private investigators to supplement the official investigation. It is important to note that it is Bea who pushed for the media to help and wanted to involve Patrick over the protests of Lionel and the police, since this fact is a clue to the resolution of the story. (A small detail, such as the uniform that Lionel wears with his name tag on it, tells us about his place in society: he is a blue-collar serviceman). Lionel says that Helene is hurting, but Bea has no sympathy for her, saying that she was the one who left the girl alone in the house. He admits that his sister and he inherited a tendency toward addiction, but he has been able to kick it for twenty-three years, because of his wife’s support. Angie is reluctant to get involved in the case. She later tells Patrick that she doesn’t want to find the little girl in a dumpster, or abused. Her mind assumes the worst-case-scenario will play out. Again, Patrick offers the possibility that they may be able to save Amanda. He wants to accept the job because he clings to having faith in hope.

They go to Helene’s home, and the low-life existence of Amanda’s mom’s world is displayed in full force. Helene sits on her couch not with sorrow about the loss of her child, but with hostility toward others, even her own family. For her and her friend, Dottie (Jill Quigg), everyone is the enemy. Their first impression is that Patrick and Angie are just trying to cash in on the publicity surrounding the abduction. This attitude derives in part from class resentment here. Dottie says she recognizes Angie. She says, “I remember you from high school. I see you’re still a little conceited, huh?” Helene feels the same way about Bea, who has enough money to hire the two PI’s. (It’s noteworthy that Patrick says the money’s not important, because he is, in a way, on a holy quest to redeem a fallen community). Helene spews forth profanities and racial and homophobic insults as easily as others might talk about the weather. Bea actually seems more motherly than Helene, showing a picture of the sweet-looking Amanda to Angie, who comes around to taking the case. She echoes Bea’s earlier statement that after all, “What harm can it do?” This statement can be seen as an ironic foreboding.
Patrick and Angie go with Bea and Lionel to check out Amanda’s room. While watching a video of Amanda, Bea says the little girl always tried to be a good girl; a simple statement, but it points to how hard that goal is to achieve in this environment. Lionel says that Helene drinks a lot, takes cocaine, and is at a local bar almost every day. Patrick, while observing Amanda’s room, notes that items are missing. He says, “What did they do, kidnap the furniture, too?” This fact is a hint that whoever took Amanda, wanted her to feel safe among familiar things. Police Captain Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman), who heads up the Crimes Against Children unit, shows up. He pointedly says that he does not appreciate Patrick and Angie interfering in the investigation. Patrick stands up to him, saying that they have a legal right to work for the family. As in most mysteries, when you watch a film again you can see significant details. Here, it is no coincidence that both Lionel and Doyle are the ones discouraging Patrick and Angie’s participation. It is also important that we later learn that Doyle’s own child of twelve years of age was killed by a predator. At one point in the story he says of Amanda, “This child. It’s all I care about.” The plot shows how this concern is all too true.

Patrick and Angie go to the bar which Lionel said Helene frequents. The inhabitants of this place are not part of what one would call a civilized urban establishment. The hostility they exhibit shows them to be more like de-evolved humans. Again, the anger of perceived condescension is present. When Patrick is seen as the enemy because he starts asking question, he hits a wall of resentment. Once he starts to crack wise with them, Patrick (even though he is not an outsider) is viewed as not on the side of those present. One person says to Patrick they don’t serve martinis here, which goes along with the bartender warning Patrick not to talk down to him. Obviously, these guys are paranoid about feeling judged. Patrick does see an old friend there who tells him that Helene would meet up here with a guy to do coke. He’s another person Patrick knows about, Skinny Ray Linkanski (Sean Malone). Patrick finds out that Helene, who said she was only away from the house for a short time at a neighbor’s during the time of Amanda’s abduction, was actually at the bar for hours. Patrick’s informant here says that Helene would take Amanda to this hellhole during the day, because it wouldn’t be fit to take her at night because of the fights and drugs. In this depraved world, Helene not taking her daughter here in the evening is considered good mothering, a realization which disgusts Angie. When the customers don’t like inside information being revealed, they harass Patrick, and make abusive sexual comments about Angie. They lock the doors, preparing for an assault. Patrick, however, is carrying a gun, cracks one of the others over the head, and they escape. This joint would definitely not show up in a AAA guide for tourists.
Doyle promised Patrick they would have the cooperation of two cops, Remy Bressant (Ed Harris), and Nick Poole (John Ashton). They meet at a restaurant, and the policemen point to a threesome of degenerates who could be involved in the abduction (misdirection?). They are drug users Leon Trett (Mark Margolis), his wife Roberta (Trudi Goodman), and the guy they work with, serial molester Corwin Earle (Mathew Maher). Nick does concede that Earle’s preference in the past has been seven-to-nine-year-old boys. Patrick is surprised that they have no other leads. He asks if they knew anything about Skinny Ray, to which Remy says he never heard of him (major clue). Another important fact is that, in response to Patrick’s question about his name, Remy says he was originally from New Orleans.

Patrick and Angie have a meeting with another old pal, Bubba (the rapper Slaine), who is the self-proclaimed ruler of the region’s druggie underworld. He doesn’t know the Tretts or Earle, but says he’ll ask around about them, and that Skinny Ray used to work for him, but now is an associate of another drug dealer, a Haitian criminal named Cheese. Remy, Nick, Angie, and Patrick interrogate Helene, telling her she lied about where she was when Amanda was taken. Lionel says that he sometimes heard Ray and Helene talking, snice he lived on another floor in the same building. She admits that she used to run drugs for Cheese through her association with Skinny Ray. Remy now (conveniently?) reveals that he heard that someone stole money from Cheese. After a lot of profanity-saturated shouting, Helene admits that she and Ray took the money from Cheese’s drug deal with bikers who were busted by the cops. They thought they could rip off the cash, since it would look like the cops confiscated it. Helene admits to bringing Amanda to this drug deal. Bea is horrified. We again get Helene’s perverted version of mothering when she said she protected Amanda by leaving her in the car. She says to Bea, “I ain’t got no day care,” which refers to her disadvantaged situation in life. She says she is a single mom facing insurmountable odds, in an attempt to justify her choice to escape into intoxication and crime (remember Patrick’s first words about what makes you who you are, surroundings or individual choice). We also learn from her that Bea can’t have children (which emphasizes why her niece is so important to Bea).

Helene leads them to Ray’s place where Helene stashed the money. On the way there, Helene, instead of being the grieving mother, engages in homophobic jokes, while also giving lip service to motherhood by saying how Ray was loud and would wake up Amanda, and her girl needs her sleep. We see on Angie’s face how her disgust for Helene grows. Helene talks about a guy, whom she dated in high school, who stabbed somebody in the heart and was now in prison. This horrible story is just probably one of others she has to share about her formative years. To stress the town’s fall from grace and innocence, we have a quick scene where a young boy riding on a bike gets in the way of Patrick’s car. Instead of apologizing, the youth tells Patrick to “Go f--- your mother,” after which Patrick shakes his head at how corrupted his world has become. They find Ray dead after being beaten. They assume this was done by Cheese, but Ray didn’t know that Helene buried the bag of cash in the back yard, so he couldn’t tell Cheese where it was. They retrieve the money, and after seeing what happened to Ray, Helene says that she hopes Amanda is resting because she was sleepy when she saw her last. She then seems sincere as she tells Patrick that “I won’t use no drugs no more. I won’t even go out.” She says she just wants her daughter back and makes Patrick promise that he will find Amanda. This vow is pivotal in Patrick’s decision later.
Given the way things look, it appears that Cheese took Amanda and wants to exchange her for the money. Patrick says he knows Cheese and convinces Remy and Nick to stay outside while he and Angie talk to the Haitian. Cheese appears not to know about Ray or Amanda as he darts looks at his second-in-command, Chris Mullen (Jimmy LeBlanc). He says that he doesn’t mess “with no kids,” but if they have his money, just drop it off. He also says that if Patrick is all that the little girl has to rely on, then she is “gone, baby, gone.” Cheese is definitely a colorful character. After he tells one of his girlfriends to stay close by, he says, “Bitches love the cheddar,” and tells Patrick on his way out, referring to the derogatory reference to cops as “pigs,” says, “Get that sausage off my lawn,” cement substituting for grass.
Surprisingly, Remy calls Patrick and says Cheese is ready to make the swap. Amanda’s blanket and instructions are found in Patrick’s mailbox. But, they meet with Doyle, who is angry because the deal was made without the approval of the police department. It is significant that this meeting only involves Remy, Nick, and Doyle, who hands Patrick a copy of the transcript of the recorded call that Cheese made to the department. Doyle says he has been forced to go along with the exchange, but it must be kept quiet to avoid any show of force that might cause Cheese to hurt Amanda. The place the swap is to occur is near a water-filled quarry. Patrick and Angie are supposed to receive Amanda on one side, while Remy and Nick give Cheese the money on the other (why separate them? We learn later). Chris Mullen is supposed to be there, too, and Patrick doesn’t like that because he thinks Mullen killed Skinny Ray. Patrick also wonders about bringing Amanda up the steep terrain, asking “How’s he going to get her up here?” Just them shots ring out, and Remy and Nick say there has been an ambush and someone shot Cheese. There is a splash and Angie, after seeing Amada’s doll floating on the water, dives in. But, all she can do is retrieve the doll.

Amanda is presumed dead. Another significant detail is that it is Doyle who calls off the search, saying that the quarry is too deep, a metaphor for the depth of this mystery. In a temporary switch of stances, it is now Angie who says Amanda could still be alive, while Patrick doesn’t think so. Remy, Nick, Patrick, and Angie are absolved of what happened at the quarry, while Doyle takes full responsibility, and retiring at half his pension. Chris Mullen is the one who double-crossed Cheese, wanting the money for himself, but he, too, is killed (conveniently?), supposedly by someone trying to rip him off. Patrick and Angie start to drift apart, with guilt over the loss of Amanda weighing heavily on Angie.

Another child is now missing. It is a young boy, who we see in his picture holding a St. Christopher’s medallion (ironically, the saint of safe passage). The Boston area is predominantly Irish Catholic, and this symbol of that faith accentuates the lapsed state from God’s grace the people here find themselves in. Patrick’s gangster friend, Bubba, promised he would find the Tretts and he delivers. He takes Patrick with him on a drug deal with the Tretts. Patrick tells the police afterwards that he saw Corwin Earle, the pedophile, upstairs possibly wearing the St. Christopher’s medal (purity hijacked?). Patrick goes with Remy and Nick to go after the Tretts and Earle. Why does Patrick go too? Perhaps he feels he needs to seek redemption for himself for having lost Amanda, by trying to rescue another child. Nick is shot, and later dies. Patrick shoots inside, and probably kills Leon, who lies on the floor. Roberta starts shooting at him, and he locks himself in Earle’s room, who says “It was an accident,” while he cowers and cries. Patrick finds the missing boy dead in a tub. In his anger, he shoots Earle dead in the back of the head. Remy kills Roberta.
Later, Angie says she is proud of what Patrick did, but Patrick feels guilty for his going outside of the law to mete out justice. He later encounters a drunk Remy, who also tells him he should be proud. Patrick says he was taught that if you feel shame, which is what he does, then it is God’s way of telling you that you did something wrong. He says murder is a sin, so he feels that he not only has broken a human law, but also one of God’s. As to whether killing someone is wrong, Remy’s less absolute view is it “depends on who you do it to.” Remy then tells a story about how he went to bust these people living in a slimy crack house full of roaches and rats, but their kid’s room was “immaculate,” “spotless,” (like the soul of an innocent child, trying to hold onto his purity?). The child was like Patrick initially said God described people to be, as sheep among wolves. There was supposed to be drugs there, they didn’t find any, but Remy planted evidence so that the boy, who suffered beatings and was malnourished, could be removed from that dangerous world. For Remy, the choice (that word again) was easy. Children are the true Christians for Remy, because they don’t judge, they turn the other cheek, they forgive. He goes on to say that there is a war being waged for the children’s salvation, and “You gotta take a side.”
But, in his drunkenness, Remy let it slip that his “old pal” Skinny Ray told him about the place in his story. Yet, at their first meeting, Remy said he never heard of Ray. Patrick wants to know why Remy lied to him. He learns from a policeman friend that Remy was asking around about the money that Cheese lost before Cheese even knew it was gone. Patrick believes he figured out what really happened. He sets up a meeting with Lionel at a local bar, fittingly called “Murphy’s Law,” the film emphasizing that what can go wrong will go wrong (i.e., the plan to take Amanda). Before the meeting, we see Lionel staring at numerous religious pictures, possibly suggesting that Remy’s “easy” choice of taking the righteous side is more complex than he would make it seem. We get Lionel’s flashback of a conversation with Remy, where Lionel says he can handle Patrick, while Remy says in his world you take a secret with you to your grave. At the bar, Patrick knows that Remy could only have found out from Lionel’s confessed eavesdropping that Skinny Ray and Helene had taken Cheese’s money. Lionel admits that he knew Remy from a while back when he had testified on Lionel’s behalf about a bar fight that went wrong. The plan was that Remy and Lionel would take Amanda and make it look like Cheese took her for the money. There would be a private exchange, so that Remy and Lionel, with Nick in on it, would get the money, and Helene would be taught a lesson about leaving her child alone. But Bea spoiled the plan by going to the cops, the media, and Patrick. So, they had to stage the fake exchange at the quarry for Patrick and Angie to witness. Chris Mullen set it up, but Cheese figured out that it was phony, and Mullen shot him, with Amanda running off and falling over the cliff. Lionel shows how much he cares about Amanda when he practically cries while saying how Helene and Dottie left the poor girl to literally roast for two hours in a closed car on a summer day at the beach while they smoked dope with some guys.
A masked robber then enters the bar, and threatens Lionel about talking too much. Patrick realizes that it is a disguised Remy, who didn’t trust Lionel to handle things. Patrick yells out that Remy took Amanda, so as to reveal him as a child abductor. The bartender then shoots Remy, who escapes. Patrick follows him to a roof top. His dying words are that “I love children.” He follows his own creed, taking his secret with him in death.

But, in the police investigation following Remy’s death, Patrick is again questioned about why he was at the quarry (which may be a flaw in the plot because this aspect should have been investigated earlier). However, Patrick learns that the local police station doesn’t record calls, so there could not have been a transcript of a call coming from Cheese or Mullen. Patrick now knows that Doyle was in on the plan, and learns that Doyle knew Remy from when they were both working in Louisiana. He goes with Angie to Doyle’s home. We then get visualizations of what probably happened at the quarry, with Remy and Nick pretending things went wrong, Mullen executing Cheese so he couldn’t give an alternative story, and Nick throwing a rock in the water followed by the doll to make it look like Amanda drowned. We see Remy waiting for Mullen, who he probably killed to tie up loose ends. Patrick realizes that Lionel, Remy and Doyle loved children and wanted to rescue Amanda from a doomed life. After approaching Doyle, Amanda runs out of the house into the arms of Doyle. After losing his child, Doyle, too, in his way, was trying to do an act of redemption by saving another innocent. But, Patrick says he is going to call the police, because the girl belongs with her mother, and he took an oath that he would find her and return her.

Doyle makes his pitch: “Thought you would've done that by now. You know why you haven't? Because you think this might be an irreparable mistake. Because deep inside you, you know it doesn't matter what the rules say. When the lights go out, and you ask yourself ‘is she better off here or better off there,’ you know the answer. And you always will. You... you could do a right thing here. A good thing. Men live their whole lives without getting this chance. You walk away from it, you may not regret it when you get home. You may not regret it for a year, but when you get to where I am, I promise you, you will. I'll be dead, you'll be old. But she... she'll be dragging around a couple of tattered, damaged children of her own, and you'll be the one who has to tell them you're sorry.” Doyle wants to break the vicious cycle of wasted life at least in this family. But, Patrick says that they should have presented proof that Amanda needed a new home and taken her to Child Services. He can’t stand the thought of an adult Amanda asking him why he allowed her to be stolen from her mother.
The police come, and arrest Doyle. Lionel goes to jail. Angie felt as Doyle did, and can’t live with what Patrick decided to “choose” to do. Angie can’t rid herself of the guilt of having agreed with Bea that their participation in this affair “couldn’t hurt.” The last scene has Patrick visiting an unchanged Helene, who hasn’t even firmed up plans for a babysitter for Amanda as she is ready to go out on the town. Patrick volunteers to look after Amanda, and they sit on the couch, watching TV.

Patrick was the one, in the beginning, who wanted to restore a semblance of innocence, of purity, to his decaying world. He wanted to do it the law-abiding way, but along that path, he himself committed murder. Even though he transgressed, given the circumstances, was that act justified? In the end, did he do more harm than good in returning Amanda to her home? More importantly, what would have been your choice? What would you have done?

The next film is A Face in the Crowd.

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