Gone Baby Gone (2007), written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, garnered modest box office success, but high praise from the critics. It even got an Oscar nod.
A few weeks ago I was surfing through the seemingly endless list of movies on demand and found this film. With all of the hype I figured it was worth a watch. It was undoubtedly an awful movie. Which meant I had to read the screenplay, because, c’mon maybe that was better?..
- Draft Read: Undated
- Type: Shooting
- Page Count: 131
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): Greater Boston, MA
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning a decade
- Theme(s): Morality, Drug Addiction, Kidnapping, Gangs
- Protagonist Change: Significant
Gone Baby Gone was a terrible read. It wasn’t realistic, believable and felt misguided in just about every way. The dialogue was a disaster and the characters were all archetypical rough Bostonians. Likewise, the portrayal of Boston was laughable. The script’s themes, while important, were overstressed and quite frankly the whole thing felt like a farce.
None to note.
There are a limited number of scenes that work. Most of them are relatively safe; and have short back-and-forth dialogue. One to note is on Page 17, when Patrick and Angie are introduced to Helene. There’s tension, it’s believable, and it’s simple, but it moves the plot forward. Unfortunately, these scenes are generally surrounded by much weaker scenes.
The script’s formatting is a bit strange. Essentially, the case ends midway through, only to be reopened by a now determined Patrick. One would think this is good screenwriting; after all, the character now has drive and grit, but the problem is the story truly ends. It’s been a few days since I read the script so I am starting to forget, but the only reason it starts again is because a now-depressed Patrick goes to a crack house in Chelsea (if I recall correctly) and happens to spot a necklace that was worn by Amanda. So, it’s just luck that saves Patrick.
Notwithstanding the complete mischaracterization of Chelsea (there are no abandoned areas of Boston… this isn’t Detroit), the relatively rare plot structure forces us to focus on the lead’s evolution (versus the plot) and how he responds to forces outside of his control. Does it work? I’d say not.
So many weaknesses.
The painting of Boston in broad strokes as a depressed, tough town is quite absurd, even for 2007. But unlike The Departed (2006) or the Town (2010), which describe Boston in a relatively tamed manner, this film goes over the top, portraying Boston as a decrepit city filled with hopeless people. Sad!
The dialogue is not believable (more on that later).
The premise, characters and their inter-dynamics are likewise not believable, specifically that between Angie and Patrick. And which 30-year old couple are accomplished private investigators?
There’s more weaknesses… Many more. I won’t bother to list them.
A child goes missing in a City where children apparently go missing on the regular. This is of course an exaggerated premise: I’ve lived in Boston my entire life, I can’t recall that ever being a widespread problem. Two young private detectives fight to find the child. There are twists and turns, and the occasional surprise.
Just awful. A bad guy named Cheese. Cheese! Why is it necessary to go into the backstory of how he obtained this name. Why not just call him Joe? It’s nuts really.
Dialogue & Pacing
The dialogue was poor. The writers appeared to have the intention of making the dialogue witty, but it came across as almost comical. On example (Page 33):
He was ganna find him a kid he could keep in the house and have sex with.
Not for Amanda it doesn’t.
That’s not what I meant.
Why doesn’t this work? First, Bressant’s sly remark is inserted at the wrong time… way too serious of a situation. Second, Bressant’s reply is rhetorical, it doesn’t warrant a response from Patrick.
And this sort of out-of-touch dialogue continues throughout the script. Here’s another line where Cheese (not the smartest criminal), somehow turns into a poet (Page 57):
You ain’t no shit. You bitch ain’t shit. Neither on of y’all moutherfuckers is shit. Fuck both ya’ll. If you didn’t have two pig out in my meadow— I put a round in both your heads right now.
…And if I see you on the street, I’m a get discourteous on you.
Cheese, when you take a break from selling drugs, please consider writing some song lyrics.
The action lines are relatively tame for most of the script. By that I mean they use as few words as is necessary to explain where we are. But then, every once in a while, the writers throw in some poetic (perhaps the same writer who wrote Cheese’s dialogue) over the top action lines (Page 102):
The day has died. Muted yellow lights appear in windows. The coming dark promises deepening chill. Children have disappeared from the street to wash up for dinner. Liquor stores and nail salons are half empty and listless. Horns honk sporadically and a storefront gate rattles as it drops. In the faces of people on the street you can see the weight of the morning’s unfulfilled promise in the numb sag of their faces.
There’s so much wrong here that it’s not worth dissecting it line by line. It feeds back into the into the vibe of the film, which is to portray Boston as a depressed, sad and lonely place. While this is fine, it doesn’t warrant whole action paragraphs to get that point across 72% of the way through the film. This could be consolidated into a two or three lines.
The pacing, while somewhat formulaic, was problematic. Some scenes and sequences did flow rather well, while strong jumps between others made the script tough to follow, and pulled away from what the natural flow one would expect.
If you can look past all of the script’s problems, you could make the case that there are important themes it brings under the microscope. In essence, the moral question is whether a child is better served living with their biological parents who are objectively bad parents, versus adoptive parents who will look out for their best interest. That’s more or less what the film gets at.
There’s probably a bit more there. But it was so heavy-handed in how it portrayed each character’s unique moral compass and emotional depth that I needn’t bother.
Best Part of The Script
None. Skip this.