36 Films: Gone Baby Gone (2007)

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t assault our eardrums by talking to us in a Boston accent.

Part 10 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Recovery Of A Lost One” with Gone Baby Gone.

The Synopsis

A child has gone missing and her white-trash mother isn’t being entirely honest about the incident. Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are young private detectives (in love) hired by the girl’s aunt and uncle to find her and bring her home. The duo use their wits, skills, and relationships on both sides of the law to unravel the twisted truth behind the girl’s disappearance, but on the mean streets of Boston the truth can sometimes be painful to hear. Almost as painful as listening to their thick native accents. Almost.

The Situation

“Recovery Of a Lost One” – This is one of the more straight forward of the situations in that there are only two very simple elements needed. There is a seeker and there is a found one. Person A is lost in some way, person B goes looking for them, and person B succeeds in finding person A.

Little Amanda McCready is the lost one and Kenzie (Casey Affleck) is the seeker. Others join him in the quest including his girlfriend (Michelle Monaghan) and some morally ambiguous detectives (Ed Harris and John Ashton), but he’s the one who makes the promise to find the girl and return her safely. He’s the core character we follow as he undertakes a journey that he himself made obligatory. A simple goal becomes a complicated, messy, and tragic affair, and even if Kenzie succeeds his world might be shattered in the process.

The Movie

Writer Dennis Lehane has had three novels adapted into high profile feature films, and for my money this is easily the best of them. The other two, Mystic River and Shutter Island, are good movies with both strengths and weaknesses, but Gone Baby Gone works beautifully from beginning to end. The heftiest share of credit for the film’s success is owed to the director… a man by the name of Ben Affleck. He shows a brilliant eye for the characters and sensibilities of both hard-working citizens and criminals walking the Boston streets, and he populates those roles with solid actors. And for a film that runs almost two hours Affleck does a fine job maintaining pacing and narrative beats as well.

Affleck has assembled a fantastic cast for the film and as good as the material is they all make it even better. His younger brother, Casey, takes on arguably his first truly adult role and absolutely nails it. Kenzie is our guide through the story, it’s his somber and possibly regret-filled narration that enlightens us to the ins and outs of his world, and he walks a very fine line between sympathy and disappointment by the story’s end. Monaghan has long been a favorite and she continues to impress here as a strong-willed woman in an impossible situation. The rest of the cast is equally strong including Harris, Ashton, Morgan Freeman, Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, and Amy Ryan as the “distraught” mother.

Gone Baby Gone meets the requirements of the ‘Recovery Of a Lost One’ situation completely, but unlike most films of the type the story here goes beyond the happy reunion. The recovery itself is brought into question in a fascinating and troubling way… is recovering and returning the child actually the right thing to do? The answer may be simple for some to come by, but most viewers will find themselves in the same boat as Kenzie. What do you do when your heart and your mind completely disagree? Where do principles end and the common good begin? It’s not often a film arrives that not only entertains and holds up on repeat viewings but that also stimulates thought, discussion, and debate. Check it out if you haven’t already, and see where you land in regards to the question at its core.

Bonus Examples: Taken, Ransom

Click here to read our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies

Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game

Deliverance – The Rescuers

Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish

Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King

Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs

Disaster – Airplane!

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery

Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin

Daring Enterprise – The Professionals

Abduction – The Chaser

The Enigma – Se7en

Obtaining – There Will Be Blood

Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors

Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men

Murderous Adultery – Match Point

Madness – Grizzly Man

Fatal Imprudence – The Fly

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy

Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween

Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger

Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri

All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent

Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story

Adultery – In the Mood For Love

Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon

Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen

Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris

An Enemy Loved – Underworld

Ambition – Wall Street

Conflict With a God – The Truman Show

Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding

Erroneous Judgment – The Contender

Remorse – In Bruges

Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone

Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary

Rob is the Chief Film Critic of Film School Rejects. He doesn't eat cheese on weekdays.

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