Oscar Ritual 2008 : GONE BABY GONE
Nominated for Supporting Actress (Amy Ryan)
There were myriad reasons I was interested in Gone Baby Gone, not the least of which was hearing such critical acclaim for Ben Affleck, continuing to prove that he has finally returned to the strengths which first brought him accolade in Hollywood. The Oscar nomination for Amy Ryan was a bonus, although she certainly wasn’t the only deserving person involved with this project. It is, at every turn, an incredible film.
The first thing to notice in Gone is the city of Boston; just as in Mystic River, another film adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel, the neighborhoods of Boston are as much a central character as any portrayed by an actor. Affleck takes great care with his imagery, showcasing his hometown with the eye of a lover and giving outsiders a sense of his pride. The streets and people are at once captivating and removed, a closed society that beckoned me to inch closer and closer. And it is the city’s heartbeat that drives this story of a negligent mother’s search for her kidnapped child.
As the character of Helene, Ryan oozes, even reeks, the Dorchester persona she embodies, pitch-perfect from head to toe in every profane word and deed. She is so utterly convincing it is necessary to remind yourself that she has not spoken or behaved this way every day of her life. Her character hits you over the head the minute you meet her, and it is she who will bring the most questions to mind throughout the course of the story. As the plot unfolds, it becomes easier and easier to question whether this mother deserves to have her child returned to her, and in the end, that is the question that will linger still. Indeed, it is central to the story and central to the characters’ journeys. Affleck stated it again and again in the DVD’s commentary: the issue of Helene’s parenting is polarizing; the film’s subject itself is polarizing. I doubt I’ll be able to voice my own definitive opinion even on second and third viewings. This is a great credit to the source material as well as the adaptation.
Ryan’s performance is not the only one worth mentioning in this film. There is an ensemble cast of stellar quality: Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Madigan, Michelle Monaghan, Titus Welliver, John Ashton, Michael K. Williams, and above all, Casey Affleck. Affleck, in particular, is so understated and yet powerful in his portrayal of the private investigator searching for the missing child. As he did in The Assassination of Jesse James…, the younger Affleck quietly commands his audience, drawing us deeper and deeper into the story by simply owning every emotion of his character. This is truly Casey Affleck’s year, and I do hope it is only the beginning.
Gone Baby Gone deserves all the attention it is getting and moreso. And yes, Amy Ryan deserves an Oscar for her performance. I’m anxious to see more of what both Afflecks can bring to us, and I’m excited at the way this movie will raise the bar for future dramatic offerings. The theme of the film should be discussed at length and in mixed company. What this movie brings to us is beyond entertainment, and I am grateful to all involved for treating it with the utmost respect and honesty. We simply don’t get enough of this in these present days. The success of this film proves that we are ready and willing to face the issues head-on if only someone will have the courage to put them forward.
image from Rotten Tomatoes