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Gone Baby Gone


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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Todd Hertz at Christianity Today Movies just went and gave it four stars!

I haven't read the review yet, but a perfect 4/4 rating is definitely too high. The first half of this film is really good, and the conclusion raises a fantastic moral dilemma, but between those two points you have to put up with some pretty big contrivances. I really, really liked the questions this film was raising, but I didn't entirely care for the plot-mechanical hoops this film had to jump through in order to raise those questions. (I was also a bit disappointed when it turns out that

a briefly-glimpsed inter-racial marriage

is not just an incidental detail, but somewhat important to the plot.)

Oh, and for the search engine: Ben Affleck. Casey Affleck. Morgan Freeman. Ed Harris. Michelle Monaghan. And especially Amy Ryan.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I thought it was an excellent film, but not a perfect one. It's a genre film, but it is a very well-crafted and well-acted one. The direction by Ben Affleck is excellent, especially for a first-time director. The film really gives a sense of place, of this gritty South Boston neighborhood. Although after Mystic River and The Departed and this film, I seen as much of the seedy side of Boston that I ever want to see.

There are some plot contrivances to be sure, and the CT reviewer may be reading more spiritual content into the film than the film warrants. But I was moved by the intelligent ways the film handled the moral dilemmas. I give it a 9/10.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree that this film raised some really tough questions at the end but it seemed to confuse me in the way it did it. Certain major plot points seemed to manifest out of the slightest details earlier in the film. Still, it is an admirable film and it seems that Ben Affleck is more slated for directing than acting, except for in the occasional Kevin Smith cameo. After this and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I am really beginning to like Casey Affleck.

"Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film." - Werner Herzog

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  • 3 weeks later...
I felt like the movie could've left out the last scene at her apartment and been more effective with its message about "what was the right thing?".

The final scene is without a doubt the most difficult and problematic. And yet, as much as it irked me for clouding the issues, I think it gives the film it's most intellectually sophisticated moment -- because it challenges the "anyone is irredeemable" position not in a theoretical way, but in a practical way: "saving" someone is never a hands-off deal; there will always be a further costs, because people who need saving (i.e., all of us, to some extent) never really appreciate the mercy they receive. It's a position that I think God would agree with. And yet that realization doesn't change a whit what the "right" thing actually is -- it just makes it more difficult to accept.

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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My point is that I felt like the issue was clouded enough and the point was made ... at least that's how I felt

SPOILER _______

watching the mother on TV and shortly after that ... THEN having him go to her apartment felt like overkill imho and was like ramming the point down your throat again.

SPOILER END +++++++++++++++++

Maybe that's just me though ...

Edited by Husker4theSpurs
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I felt like the issue was clouded enough and the point was made...

Oh, I understand, and I don't really disagree. Without the scene in the apartment, though, I felt that the film would have unfairly stacked the deck in favor of the mercy option.

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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I also like the last scene because, as one critic or blogger put it, the Casey Affleck character is seen to be "owning" the decision that he made.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Count me among the film's admirers.

I think there's a lot of Raymond Chandler in this, without it having the classic film noir look. The plot convolutions which are bothering some people are part and parcel of that. What's going on isn't necessarily all that convoluted, it only appears so from the central character's perspective because he doesn't really know what he's stumbled into the middle of. Plot contrivances? Again, same explanation, I think.

Yes, Casey Affleck is very good. I love the mix of vulnerability/uncertainty with a genuine strength and toughness that are belied by his appearance, and his essential goodness.

It seems to me a key to the film is that he may be the only character who doesn't sit in judgment on the visibly flawed people of his neighbourhood. While the mother of the missing girl is a junkie, he sees her as a human being, doesn't condescend to her, doesn't share his girlfriend's condemnation of the woman. And so it's fitting that when the mother does actually come to feel sorrow at the loss of her daughter, that emerges in his presence. Of course it does, since no one else treats her as a human being.

The thought that the little girl should not be with her mother seems presumptuous, even criminal, if - and probably only if - you consider the mother a human being. Also, most people in the film judge the entire neighbourhood as a place where it is unfit for a child to grow up, but the Affleck character knows better. After all, he grew up there, and ends up a man of tremendous moral integrity and courage. So why shouldn't the little girl turn out as well as he has?

I feel the story and screenplay are significantly stronger and more complex than MYSTIC RIVER, but the two certainly come from the same mind, don't they? I wonder whence the concern about child abduction and abuse? For some reason I found MYSTIC RIVER acutely depressing, where GONE BABY GONE didn't have that effect. Perhaps I was so compelled by the portrayal of a good man, the view of the mean streets down which he went was less oppressive. Gritty, troubling, yes, but somehow balanced by that one decent heart at the centre of the story. I guess Kevin Bacon's character in MYSTIC RIVER is similar - another performance I enjoyed, though Casey Affleck especially got under my skin. (I completely agree: back to back with JESSE JAMES, he's the real discovery of the year for me.)

That final moral conundrum really sticks with me, too. It seems so clear that the girl would have been happy with the older couple, and that there's a great chance she'll live out a tragedy in the image of her mother if she's back home. I was so connected to the Affleck character that I definitely sided with him, but stepping back from that couldn't help wondering why it is criminal for these well-meaning individuals to take an action that a social services agent might easily take, but with worse options for placing the child. There is a moral arrogance or condescension, a high-handedness, maybe hubris when the people in the film take that action entirely on their own impetus, without any kind of checks and balances, and surely this is part of what the Affleck character responds to. That, and the fact that he made a promise he feels compelled to keep.

I had no problem with the final sequence. The press conference played out the film's disgust with sensationalized media response to such crises, and the apartment scene seemed to me perfectly conceived and perfectly executed. We may feel that the Affleck character has made the right choice, but we are forced to live in that decision for a while, as is the character.

Seeing him sit on the couch opposite the little girl, it came home to me that she could well be him as a child. There's all the potential that she could go to the same hell as her mother, but also all the possibility she could grow up like him.

And not only is he a product of the same neighbourhood, in a sense he is the neighbourhood. Early on, the film gives us a romanticized view of the neighbourhood pulling together, looking out for the lost child. It subverts that picture, showing us just how mean the place can be, but in the final analysis, the fact that the Affleck character does what he does reminds me that there are likely others around who may take similar steps. The film is very much about neighbourhood.

I need to read the Christianity Today review. I bet I'll have a similar response to the film. From the opening monologue about the priest's advice to the young boy, through the segments of the film that were pervaded with Catholic imagery, I was fascinated by that element. It may have just been "local colour," the trappings of a Catholic neighbourhood, Irish Catholic police force. It may have been ironic, a signifier of hypocrisy, or something about the rituals of power. But the central character seems to me essentially to live out his priest's advice - maybe those words are the character's life mission, somehow, his "superobjective" if I may use an actor term - and there is nothing ironic in those words for him, nothing in his actions that undercuts that. Perhaps the crucifix in the hospital room and the silent witness of the statued saints is to keep him and us reminded of those original words.

Need to see it again.

Ron

PS Just read the CT Review. Yup, as I suspected Todd pretty much spoke for me. Uncanny, actually, that he calls the priest's words "a mission statement." We definitely saw the same film.

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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I felt like the movie could've left out the last scene at her apartment and been more effective with its message about "what was the right thing?".

Overall it felt a little convoluted some of the time with the turning points, but it all came together nicely. Nice work all around.

That is definitely due to the nature of the book. I am a big Lehane fan, especially when he is writing about Kenzie and Gennaro, and there is a lot of backstory that comes together there in a way that the film just doesn't have room to fully accomplish. There were several shot sequences that were right out of the book, and I was gratified to see that.

I think there's a lot of Raymond Chandler in this...

Or Lehane? He is a bit like P.D. James meets Chandler I suppose. As far as influences are concerned, Lehane has said:

There've been so, so many. Parker certainly taught me a lot about humor and dialogue, as did Elmore Leonard. The biggest influences, however, were three great urban novelists: Richard Price, Pete Dexter, and William Kennedy. I see some Graham Greene trickling in from time to time, too.

Spoilers

For some reason I found MYSTIC RIVER acutely depressing, where GONE BABY GONE didn't have that effect.

The end of the book is extremely tragic. (Which is odd as I recall the ending of Lehane's Mystic River being less depressing than the film.) Kenzie losing Gennaro is a pretty big deal in the grand scope of their relationship. And as far as Kenzie having a "good heart," there is a lingering question in the book as to how much Kenzie is motivated by revenge in his willingness to uncover police corruption. I was a bit shocked in the CT review to see Kenzie thought of as a "sheep," "man of conscience," or that "someone's knocking there" as he is most certainly a less palatable hero in Lehane's imagination. His insistence at the beginning that they not take the case because the girl is "gone baby, gone" is classic nihilist Kenzie. These two are great characters, the moral dynamic between them elevating Lehane's books above simple crime fiction, hopefully there will be more to come.

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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"Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man in any world. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is this man's adventure in search of hidden truth."

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Ron wrote:

: That final moral conundrum

really sticks with me, too. It seems so clear that the girl would have been happy with the older couple

. . .

Possibly. But this is beginning to remind me of the ending of Crimes and Misdemeanors. A lot of discussion is predicated on the idea that these stories are simple fables that can and should be read strictly on the surface -- if you could have your mistress killed and get away with it, etc., etc. -- but if you probe a little deeper and begin to treat the characters as real people, then you begin to wonder just how perfect the execution of their crimes really ARE. Eventually you'd expect SOME cracks to show, right? (And in the case of Crimes and Misdemeanors, the mere fact that Landau "shares his story" at the end is, itself, a possible sign of the guilt that is beginning to make him crack -- even though a superficial, even gullible, reading of his dialogue would tell us that Landau doesn't actually feel any guilt at that point.

: Casey Affleck especially got under my skin. (I completely agree: back to back with JESSE JAMES, he's the real discovery of the year for me.)

Everyone forgets Ocean's Thirteen.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Ron wrote:

: That final moral conundrum

really sticks with me, too. It seems so clear that the girl would have been happy with the older couple

. . .

Possibly. But ... you begin to wonder just how perfect the execution of their crimes really ARE. Eventually you'd expect SOME cracks to show, right?

Indeed. If Patrick (Affleck) has done the right thing, if

Captain Doyle has done wrong - if he's not so much stepping around an inadequate law as in fact sinning, committing a child abduction, doing evil,

then it may well be that "his sins will find him out." He is completely convinced at the moment that he is doing the good thing, but

it's apparent he is motivated by that terrible absence in his own life, the loss of his beloved daughter. It don't take no PhD in psychology to see that his own need, and that of his wife, are blinding them to realities about what they're doing. Will someday that compulsive need diminish its hold on them? Will someday one or the other of them start thinking more clearly? Doyle hates child abductors: what will happen to his psyche the day the though breaks through that he is one himself?

And won't the little girl herself start wondering what happened to her mommy? Maybe bring that up on a schoolyard, or at a sleepover when she's a teenager, or when she talks to a counsellor because she's tried alcohol or drugs and is suddenly skidding toward addiction and the therapist asks about her family history of chemical dependency? Etc, etc. If what they're doing is just plain wrong, however well justified, then perhaps it will crumble sooner or later. Fundamentally, she can either live out her life in the middle of a lie, however well-dressed and well-fed and well-cuddled, or she can live out her real life, however bleak - but not hopeless - its prospects.

: Casey Affleck especially got under my skin. Back to back with JESSE JAMES, he's the real discovery of the year for me.)

Everyone forgets Ocean's Thirteen.

Yes. I even forgot to go.

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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"Down these mean streets a man must go..."

Sorry, I am bit confused Ron. Should we be reading Kenzie's motives in light of the Chandler axiom? I don't think I have read much Lehane as "noir," preferring to simply wait for his "trickles of Graham Greene."

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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"Down these mean streets a man must go..."

Sorry, I am bit confused Ron. Should we be reading Kenzie's motives in light of the Chandler axiom? I don't think I have read much Lehane as "noir," preferring to simply wait for his "trickles of Graham Greene."

Setting "should" aside, I will say that I see very strong connections between the Marlowe novels and this story, as touched on in my previous posts to this thread. But, while Marlowe and his kin begat film noir, I'm not drawing the comparison to those films, which have a whole heap of stylistic and other conventions that may or may not relate either to the Marlowe stories or to GONE BABY GONE.

The points of contact between Chandler and GBG would be... Geographical specificity, "mean streets," poverty / crime / alcholism / violence. Central character essentially good - the knight errant model - but tarnished, compromised, tough (but vulnerable, at a personal level), not conventionally moral, but not "mean." Ends up working for free. Uncertain relationships with women. Relatively powerless, apart from the power of uncovering and speaking the truth, over against the powerful machineries of corrupt police and deceptive criminals. Caught in a situation he doesn't understand, fumbling toward unravelling all the strands of deception and misunderstanding. Making decisions on the fly, unsure about the great rights and wrongs, but honouring fundamental decencies - loyalty, telling the truth, fulfilling a promise, giving grace where possible - in the choices he makes in the context of moral uncertainty. Not actually solving or fixing very much, confounded, conflicted, and often ending up unsure that he's done anything like the right thing.

It adds further interest for me that GBG is set in Boston, where Spenser operates. While Robert Parker's novels have ended up settling into a thoroughly formulaic pattern (if you enjoy the pattern, you don't mind having it reassuringly repeated) he started the series as a very direct and obvious homage to Phillip Marlowe. Eventually Spenser's moral code gets very, very clear and well-defined, and that's quite distant from the moral ambiguities and the feeling of a messed-up man messing through messy situations that typifies Chandler, or the first three or four Spenser books. Or GONE BABY GONE, for that matter.

Make sense?

PS By the way, i hadn't seen your post to the thread until just now, after making this post. Your perspective on the film, knowing the Lehane series that lies behind it, is very interesting. I would say that, to at lest some of us viewing the film as it presents itself on screen, without the context of all that's in the books, Kenzie very much comes across as a decent man trying to do what's right in the situation, even - as embodied by Affleck - with qualities of ingenuousness, almost innocence. I don't think the film offers any aspect of his character that shows nihilism. And as for the "gone baby gone" comment, I remember that coming from the Haitian gang leader, but missed it coming from Kenzie. Your comment that Kenzie initially insists "that they not take the case because the girl is 'gone baby, gone' doesn't fit at all with what I remember from the film, in which he is immediately eager to take the case, and it is his girlfriend who resists. You may very well be correct: that's just my memory. I'm very eager to see the film again: I'll watch that early stuff much more carefully.

Interesting to see the influences Lehane cites for his own work. I'm quite willing to believe that the author isn't intentionally riffing on Chandler in his writing. My point is only that, by whatever means, this film has ended up having a great deal in common with the Phillip Marlowe ethos.

Edited by Ron

I've posted a couple hundred of my Soul Food Movies write-ups at letterboxd

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Sure does, thanks for clearing that up. I am still not sure that Kenzie can at all be read as a "noir hero" in the classic sense, especially in Darkness, Take My Hand, a continual pretext to GBG. That one gets pretty morally brutal, and at times seems a corrective to the cavalier ethicizing that goes on in real noir. But I guess we pretty much have to invoke Chandler's Atlantic piece sometime in any of these discussions, as a handy reference point at the very least.

I still read Parker whenever he pops another one out, so the pattern must be reassuring. But I have also been very fond of the adaptations of his Jesse Stone novels that Tom Selleck has been doing. Sounds cheesy, I know, but even as made for TV films, they are beautifully shot and evoke a brilliant sense of place. A great adaptation of Parker's language. If you get a chance to see those I bet you would really enjoy them. His character in these novels does quite a bit of, shall we say, "post-noir" detective wondering like P.D. James' Dagleish.

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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I remember that coming from the Haitian gang leader, but missed it coming from Kenzie. Your comment that Kenzie initially insists "that they not take the case because the girl is 'gone baby, gone' doesn't fit at all with what I remember from the film

I need to watch the beginning again, as I must have glossed over it. In the book, his tone is pretty ambiguous as he can either be read as gently cynical, or genuinely honest. But here both Kenzie and Gennaro try to dissuade these potential clients from hiring them. In subsequent chapters, they eventually get worn down and decide to help. This would be an interesting shift in their characters that would make the film Kenzie a bit more "noble" in the Chandlerian sense:

"No one does," I said. "And if we're going to look into this-- and I'm not saying we will ..."

Beatrice sat up in her chair and looked hard at me.

"But if, we have to work under the assumption that if she has been abducted, it was by someone close to her."

Lionel sat back down. "You think she was taken."

"Don't you?" Angie said. "A four-year-old who ran off on her own wouldn't still be out there after almost three full days without having been seen."

"Yeah," he said, as if facing something he'd known was true but had been holding at bay until now. "Yeah. You're probably right."

"So what do we do now?" Beatrice said.

"You want my honest opinion?" I said.

She cocked her head slightly, her eyes holding steadily with my own. "I'm not sure."

"You have a son who's about to enter school. Right?"

Beatrice nodded.

"Save the money you would have spent on us and put it toward his education."

Beatrice's head didn't move; it stayed cocked slightly to the right, but for a moment she looked as if she'd been slapped. "You won't take this case, Mr. Kenzie?"

"I'm not sure there's any point to it."

Beatrice's voice rose in the small office. "A child is--"

"Missing," Angie said. "Yes. But a lot of people are looking for her. The news coverage has been extensive. Everyone in this city and probably most of the state knows what she looks like. And, trust me, most of them have their eyes peeled for her."

Beatrice looked at Lionel. Lionel gave her a small shrug. She turned from him and locked eyes with me again. She was a small woman, no more than five foot three. Her pale face, sparkled with freckles the same color as her hair, was heart-shaped, and there was a child's roundness to her button nose and chin, the cheekbones that resembled acorns. But there was also a furious aura of strength about her, as if she equated yielding with dying.

"I came to you both," she said, "because you find people. That's what you do. You found that man who killed all those people a few years ago, you saved that baby and his mother in the playground, you--"

"Mrs. McCready," Angie said, holding up a hand.

"Nobody wanted me to come here," she said. "Not Helene, not my husband, not the police. 'You'd be wasting your money,' everyone said. 'She's not even your child,' they said."

"Honey." Lionel put his hand on hers.

"Mr. Kenzie, you can find her."

"No," I said softly. "Not if she's hidden well enough. Not if a lot of people who are just as good at this as we are haven't been able to find her either. We're just two more people, Mrs. McCready. Nothing more."

"Your point?" Her voice was low, again, and icy.

"Our point," Angie said, "is what help could two more sets of eyes be?"

Edited by MLeary

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I just got around to seeing this, and while I really liked it for the most part, there was one thing that really bugged me:

When Remy (Ed Harris) dies, the music unmistakably telegraphs his death a couple seconds before I was sure he was dead. And after seeing "No Country For Old Men" again a couple days ago with its sparse soundtrack, it felt really cheap when "Gone Baby Gone" used music that way.

That said, it was the kind of movie that made me walk softly to my car without talking to anyone and drive the long way home in silence. It's sure to show up on my end-of-the-year list.

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  • 4 months later...

My wife and I just finished watching it, and overall, we really liked it. That being said, it's not necessarily the right kind of film for new parents to watch -- we had to watch it in two parts because it was just a little much for Renae. Maybe the fact that we didn't watch it all in one sitting means that the contrivances that others mentioned don't really bother me, though I think I can see what others are saying.

That being said, I thought the film was a fine exploration of the whole "is it ever right to do something evil in order to bring about good", and Casey Affleck's wrestling with that becomes increasingly compelling as the film progresses.

"I feel a nostalgia for an age yet to come..."
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  • 4 months later...

Just finished watching this movie. Thought it was interesting how

Gennaro tells Kenzie that he did the "right thing" in killing Corwin Earle, and "no man who kills a child has a right to live" but apparently he doesn't live up to par when he calls the police on Freeman. The movie doesn't tell us whether she knew or not that he was killed execution style. It simply moves from that one scene to the next in the hospital with her trying to convince him. Though one gets the feeling that it really wouldn't have mattered to her whether or not she would have known he was killed execution style, as long as the pedophile child killer is dead.

Edited by BBBCanada

Brandon

"God is so great and merciful that he does not require that we name him precisely. God is even willing to be anonymous for a time. Remember how God led the Three Wise Men from the East to Christ? The Wise Men did not know the God of Israel or Jesus. They worshipped the stars. So God used a star to lure them."--The Twelve Steps for Christians

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  • 1 year later...

Good point on Gennaro, BBB. It seemed everyone wanted to be moral in this movie, and I personally don't think anyone was. Including the Affleck character.

I thought it was an excellent film, but not a perfect one. It's a genre film, but it is a very well-crafted and well-acted one. The direction by Ben Affleck is excellent, especially for a first-time director. The film really gives a sense of place, of this gritty South Boston neighborhood. Although after Mystic River and The Departed and this film, I seen as much of the seedy side of Boston that I ever want to see.

There are some plot contrivances to be sure, and the CT reviewer may be reading more spiritual content into the film than the film warrants. But I was moved by the intelligent ways the film handled the moral dilemmas. I give it a 9/10.

I am short on time tonight, appreciate the thoughts in the whole thread. Thanks for pointing out this one to me, can't remember who did, but it was someone recently here at A&F... So thanks.

And I am now a new believer in Casey. (And as Ron said, especially after this and the JJ film.)

So "what he said." Except for the 9/10. I didn't mind the predictability, but it was there, even before the scene at the quarry. But when the quarry scene came along and we saw nothing, and then Freeman gets to go into early retirement, I didn't know how it was going to happen, but I kind of knew what was going to happen.

Still, all the nice things Crow says. And an 8/10 from me.

Everyone forgets Ocean's Thirteen.

I think you mean, everyone would like to forget O13.

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In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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  • 9 months later...

Caught it. Liked it. Would have been tempted to end it with Freeman rocking on the porch and Affleck walking back to his car. With the question still unanswered ('cept you know, as the audience, what he's going to do).

If I wasn't going to end it like that, I could have used less speechifying.

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