Brought Up by Twinkies and Ass Whuppings

Gone Baby Gone is the movie No Country for Old Men wanted to be. Both adapted from well known novelists, both grounding their story in a uniquely American subculture with its own values, lingo, and tribal norms. Both trying to use the plot and story to make a larger point about the human condition.

NCFOM failed to make this point because the movie doesn't let you care about any of the characters. The Coen Brothers actually adopt the Western stoicism of their story. At the end, the only thing the audience can do is shrug, mutter something to their wives, and have bad dreams.

Gone Baby Gone succeeds because it does make you care. It turns its weaknesses into strengths. For example, the main characters are not sufficiently fleshed out. How does 31 year old Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) have his own Private Dick business? And how does he do it without having once been "on the Force" like every other private eye since Philip Marlowe? (though his ignorance of police procedural plays a key role in the movie.) What is his relationship to Dorchester? Uppity outcast? Favorite Son? Did he really ever get out of there? And what exactly does his girlfriend and business partner Angie (Michelle Monaghan) bring to the table? Is she really from Dorchester with that pristine English? If so, how come nobody but one person remembahs her? Further, certain plot points remain a mystery, like who killed the informant that a cop lied about?

This is a deliberate move. The main characters are ciphers to invite the audience to identify with them, to become them, so that when these characters have to make a terrible choice, we have to make it too. Some plot points remained frayed and unexplained because it raises the stakes of the choice we as the audience are forced to make. Character motivations become clear without being acknowledged onscreen, further deepening the dilemma.

This movie asks the audience to think hard about what it means to be young, what it means to be old, what it means to be a parent, what it means when you must choose between protecting the law and protecting people, what it means to keep a promise, and, ultimately, adds layers to the cliche that asks, if you take the kid out of Dorchester, can you take the Dorchester out of the kid?

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