Patterns of Place: Regional Expectations Die Slowly in Gone Baby Gone (Affleck, 2007)

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Ben Affleck begins his complex directing debut Gone Baby Gone with two distinctive signatures of Boston – the rough faces of it’s populace mulling about outside their houses layered over with the potent regional drawl of the film’s narrator, private investigator Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck), voicing his reflections on the essence of community. Patrick, proud of his beginnings with honest optimism, muses about the history behind such a place, the hard work, the people, and the values which inevitably define a region. This particular enclave has just suffered a tragedy; the kidnapping of a young girl from her own home, enacting the full presence of the police (led by a devoted Capt. (Morgan Freeman) and the media. The missing girl’s Aunt and Uncle hire Patrick and his partner (in both senses of the word) Angie (Michelle Monaghan) to help with the local color, i.e. getting information from those who might not approach the cops. This quick and tense setup produces a disturbing scene early on in which Patrick and Angie question the harsh rubes of a seedy local bar. A resentment becomes apparent between Patrick and the inhabitants which he doesn’t immediately understand. His sense of self and place become intrinsically threatened by these men, and it offends him more than it frightens. Director Affleck builds the scene masterfully, laying out the smokey space in terms of building conflict and threatening bodies, striking chords with both story and character. The incident in the bar provides us with the flip side to Patrick’s seemingly benign personality, the brutal actions alluded to and founded by a more violent and criminal past. Gone Baby Gone bristles with countless scenes like this one, those based on character’s expectations which undeniably come crashing down. As Patrick becomes more embroiled in the girl’s disappearance, his own perception about place, ethics, and morality are tainted by the investigation. Many have called Gone Baby Gone an excellent genre film, which it certainty is. But there’s more to Affleck’s pacing (which challenges traditional plot points) and his direction of actors than simple genre aesthetics. The sum of all these parts leads to the unravelling of Patrick’s expectations about his home, friends, religion, basically everything that defines him. This evolution can be found in the supporting players as well, including a harrowing turn by Ed Harris as a local detective on the case. Each character in Gone Baby Gone shows their true stripes through the death of their own expectations, and as moments of violence and heartache reveal contrasting natures, so does Patrick’s sense of place change drastically. By the end of the film, Affleck’s opening salvo takes on new meaning – the simple faces and tone of region have depth and menace and faith beyond even the judgment of it’s own people, a dangerous combination when faced with the complexities of life. Gone Baby Gone is a beast of a film, invigorating, frustrating, and ripe with shifts and turns worthy of a Noir, while taking on a view of humanity all it’s own. We are not doomed by fate, or by chance, but by our own denial of character flaws themselves. Patrick learns this countless times, yet by the time the Brothers Affleck bring us full circle, we’re still not sure where he stands, a force of ambiguity that both engulfs the film and the it’s characters’ sense of place. Sometimes, home sweet home turns tragically unfamiliar.

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