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The Triumph and Tragedy of Gone Baby Gone

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Image A few months back I was lucky enough to get my hands on the script for Gone Baby Gone, an adaptation of the novel by acclaimed writer Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River.  I tend to be a stickler for how film adaptations go, and yet I was very impressed with the screenwriter’s adherence to the source material. However, while watching the finished product which was just released into theaters, I found myself letting out the occasional groan and sigh.  It seems that the script I read was an incredibly early draft, and what should have been an amazing translation of book to screen turned into an incredibly loose translation, albeit an entertaining movie nonetheless.

To give a little back story, Gone Baby Gone is the third novel in the Kenzie/Gennaro set of books written by Dennis Lehane.  The books follow local private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck in the film) and Angela “Angie” Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan).  The couple solves the occasional missing person’s case and is incredibly talented in what they do since they’ve grown up in the slums of Boston where the series is set.  They’re the two people who can get the local thugs to open up when the police fail.  This particular story has the two reluctantly taking the case of 4-year-old Amanda McCready, who was left alone by her coked out mother one night.  In looking for the missing girl it leads them to question everything they know about their relationship.  It also has them looking into possible police corruption involving the head of the missing children’s department led by Jack Doyle (Morgan Freeman) and his top cop Remy Broussard (Ed Harris).

As a simple cinema experience Gone Baby Gone is quite simple a great movie.  First-time director Ben Affleck (the man definitely knows his stuff) is able to bring a tight, cohesive thriller that will make you talk for days.  He is able to blend action sequences with long stretches of dialogue that never gets boring.  You also have to give him credit for making a film that is relevant to today (and certain CC2K writers might have to give him some credit for this). Gone Baby Gone has actually been put on hold in the UK due to its striking similarities to the missing case of Madeline McCann.  Watching the movie I could see why it was put on hold, the young actress bears an incredibly striking resemblance to the missing girl.  Casey Affleck proves his mettle with the role of Patrick Kenzie.  Kenzie had to be played by a man with both strength and smarts and while Affleck didn’t look to have the physical status that the character commanded he was able to pull of a convincing bad ass and still be intelligent.  Ed Harris also has to be commended for the role of Remy Brussant (yes they changed the last name).  In the novel the character screams everything Harris is able to pull off.  Hopefully he’ll get recognized come Oscar time. 

However, while the movie works as a simple piece of entertainment, as a purist to the original source material though I was screaming inside.  I did understand that some subplots referred to past Lehane books, so I didn’t expect to see those.  And yet, in the end they removed some pretty intense character development that would have made certain characters way more sympathetic and the ending coming off all kinds of wrong.

The first major gripe I had was the marginalization of Angie Gennaro’s character.  I love Michelle Monaghan and enjoyed her work in this, but at the end she plays a straight “girlfriend” role and doesn’t have much to do.  The novel makes Angie a complete character. It showed her love for Patrick and her need to have a family with him, while the movie actually removes the whole child subplot.  This confuses the viewer because you don’t understand why Gennaro’s character is so upset at not finding Amanda.  They also remove her obsession with other missing children’s cases.  It’s incredibly frustrating because you never truly feel for Angie, you just see her as Patrick’s lover.  She’s not strong or commanding like she should be.

Another slap in the face is the ending of the picture.  I don’t want to reveal too much but suffice it to say that it comes off a bit disjointed and doesn’t resolve a lot in terms of why the characters do what they do at the end.  I also felt a little sad about not having Ed Harris’ character come full circle.  The original text delves into Broussard’s life and letting you sympathize for why he needs to find Amanda.  The way the character is portrayed in the movie, he’s just an arrogant cop who wants to solve this case for prestige.  Had they included an ounce of the novel’s nuance, he would have been a much richer character.

That’s where I think Gone Baby Gone fails.  It is an entertaining, highly riveting movie, but if you’ve taken the time to read Lehane’s original novel you would root more for the more shady characters.  You would also feel more satisfied with the ending.  In my opinion check out Affleck’s movie first then read Lehane’s book.  That way you won’t be too disappointed going in with what gets removed. I highly recommend Ben Affleck direct more, I just feel he needs to make a director’s cut and include some more of those deleted elements from the script.