"Moral Ambiguities"

Content: -2 Discretion advised for adults.

What You Need To Know:

GONE BABY GONE is an extremely intense, morally complex detective thriller. Adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane, the movie stars Director Ben Affleck’s talented brother Casey as Patrick Kenzie. A private investigator in Boston, Patrick works with his girlfriend, Angie Gennaro, played by Michelle Monaghan. A drug addicted single mother’s 4-year-old child, Amanda, is missing. Prodded by Amanda’s aunt and uncle, Patrick and Angie reluctantly agree to help find Amanda. The trail to Amanda leads through Boston’s underbelly and through the city police department. It also confronts Patrick and Angie with some difficult moral dilemmas.

Ben Affleck, who also directed GONE BABY GONE, does a brilliant job of adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel. He coaxes some dynamite performances from an amazing cast that also includes Ed Harris, Amy Ryan and Morgan Freeman. There seem to be a few plot holes, however, and one of the surprising twists seems hard to follow at first. GONE BABY GONE contains some Christian, moral and even biblical elements, but it is set in a dark world with moral ambiguities left unanswered, plus plenty of very strong foul language, violence and mature subject matter.


(B, CC, LLL, VVV, S, N, A, DD, M) Light moral worldview with some strong Christian and biblical content, but set in a dark world and undercut by some moral ambiguities left up to the viewer to decide, with little or no standards by which to make such decisions, plus even the good characters do some morally questionable things or use the false standard that the end justifies the means, including vigilante justice; at least 158 mostly strong obscenities, nine strong profanities, and six light profanities, plus man vomits after violently killing someone; very strong violence with blood and some action violence includes gunfight, threats, man shot in chest, man shot in head, another man shot to death, one child’s dead body shown, implied drowning of one child, woman jumps off cliff into water to save child, and vigilante retribution in one scene; no sex scenes but there is a single mother and detectives track down a pedophile who has taken a child, plus unmarried couple appears to live together; no sexual nudity and brief upper male nudity in one scene; alcohol use; smoking and some drug references, including references to bad people selling drugs; and, deceit, faking evidence, kidnapping, and bad mother figure.

More Detail:

GONE BABY GONE is an extremely intense, morally complex detective thriller. It offers some provocative moral questions for the audience to answer on their own, including a provocative use of Jesus Christ’s command to “be wise as serpents, yet innocent (or harmless) as doves,” but leaves viewers hanging with a sadness that dampens hope.

Adapted by Director Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard from a novel by Dennis Lehane (who also wrote MYSTIC RIVER), the movie opens in a downtrodden Boston neighborhood, where there is media frenzy over a missing little girl, 4-year-old Amanda McCready. Amanda’s desperate aunt and uncle plead with local private investigators Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Michelle Monaghan) to take the case.

Patrick and Angie, however, know Amanda’s neighborhood and they also know the truth about Amanda’s drug-addicted, irresponsible mother, Helene (played by Amy Ryan). Reluctantly, they take the case, and the two police detectives handling the disappearance, Remy Bressant (played by Ed Harris) and Nick Poole (played by John Ashton), reluctantly clue the PIs in on the case. Using their knowledge of Boston’s underbelly and Helene’s hangouts, Patrick and Angie uncover a trail leading to Helene’s own drug dealer, for whom she works as a courier. Just as the case is about to be cracked, the tragedy of Amanda’s fate is sadly revealed in a flash of gunfire.

Everyone tries to move on, but a haunted Patrick cannot walk away. As more and more violence breaks out, he uncovers a web of lies that confronts him with a moral dilemma and questions of right and wrong.

Ben Affleck, co-screenwriter and director, does a brilliant job of adapting Dennis Lehane’s novel. He coaxes coaxing some dynamite performances from an amazing cast. In fact, this is a much better adaptation than Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed version of Lehane’s novel MYSTIC RIVER.

Even so, at least one of the surprising twists at the end was a little hard to follow, though it quickly becomes clear what’s happening. Also, there seem to be a couple plot holes, one of which even the movie brings up but doesn’t seem to answer. Furthermore, although the movie brings up some worthwhile moral issues and questions, it leaves many of them up to the viewer to decide. At one point, one of the characters tries to explain his actions by saying that what he did he did for the greater good, but Casey Affleck’s private eye character quotes Jean Renoir’s classic movie RULES OF THE GAME by sarcastically replying, “Everyone has his reasons.” In the final scene, however, the movie strongly suggests that the character probably was right to do what he did, and the private eye has begun to realize it. In fact, Patrick clearly begins to feel guilty that he may not have done the right thing, even though to do otherwise could be seen as saying the end justifies the means.

Of course, the Bible provides us with moral guidelines and moral standards to make tough moral decisions. Even then, however, intelligent biblical scholars disagree on some questions. For example, is it okay to lie to the National Socialist at your door who wants to know if you are hiding any Jews in the attic? Some scholars say it is never okay to lie. They say that you should lie to the Nazi and then ask God to forgive you for lying. Other scholars, however, point to the mid-wives in Egypt lying to protect the Hebrew children. They say that, in the case of the Nazi, when you lie to the Nazi, you are actually following a higher moral law, to protect innocent life. Thus, it’s not a sin to lie to an evil person in order to protect a life.

Be that as it may, GONE BABY GONE fits well into the genre of the hardboiled detective movie. Such movies take place in a dark world where society has become increasingly corrupt. The hero in such stories often faces moral dilemmas and difficult moral complexities. He must, therefore, find nuanced ways of navigating this moral corruption while retaining some personal sense of moral honor and upholding some sense of moral virtue. Sometimes, the hero succeeds in meeting these challenges; sometimes, the results are mixed. This is part of the joy, not to mention social and even moral benefit, of reading and watching such stories.

Thus, in that sense, GONE BABY GONE is interesting in spite of its problems, which include an abundance of strong foul language and some very strong violence.

Want more content like this? Make a donation to Movieguide®