When will Casey Affleck stop mumbling? He mumbled his way through Jesse James and he mumbles his way through this convoluted thriller. The plot’s noirish enough without having to hang on his every mangled word. This delivery worked in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) because it suited the character; he was not revealling everything about himself, here it works against the moral clarity his character is meant to embody.
This being a noir narrative, but not in visual style, we can expect to step into a place where morality, if it exists, is not as ‘we’ know it. Gone Baby Gone guides us through a poor area of Boston, Mass. and, for the most part is engaging enough however it has a terrific final 30 minutes. However, I wonder if the narrative is mangled a little too much to manipulate audience’s viewpoint. For example, the protagonist has two voice overs, at the start and in the central section, placing him as our guide to the seedy side of Boston. However, crucially, at the climax (I’m not going to spoil) we get information that the portagonist, Patrick Kenzie, is not party to which, minutes later, is then reiterated in flashback just to make sure we’ve got it. It’s a narrative cheat that spoils the tour de force ending only a little.
The underworld Kenzie guides us through is the ‘no hope’ poor or, what Orwell prize blog winner NightJack calls, the ‘evil poor’. The suggestion is these are people for whom nothing can be done; so nothing should be tried. This is politically contentious, to say the least: ‘hey why waste money on benefits for these people who are no good anyway?’ As is always the case, the problem is the burden of representation that rests on films that bother to include the underclass; as they are so rarely represented then when they are shown the representation becomes representative.
In this film the ‘evil’ mother creates an exquisite moral dilemma for Kenzie so, dramatically, it’s terrific; but leaves an uncertain taste.