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"You got my money, you leave that shit in the mailbox on your ass way out, you feel me? Some other motherfuckers let fool rob on them. I don't play scrimmage. But I don't fuck with no kids. And if that girl's only hope is you, well, I pray for her, because she's gone, baby. Gone."—Cheese
In Boston, private investigators and lovers Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro are called to investigate the disappearance of 4-year-old Amanda McCready. With the aid of police Capt. Jack Doyle, father of a murdered daughter himself, the two set out on the case they initially never wanted. As they further investigate, secrets are dug up that threaten all involved.
Gone Baby Gone features examples of:
- Abusive Parents: It quickly becomes obvious that Helene is a horribly neglectful mother. It's why Lionel helped Broussard take her in the first place.
- Adaptation Distillation: Affleck does a very good job of condensing and streamlining a very complex novel.
- Always Save the Girl: Even at the expense of his actual love interest. And maybe even the girl's own well-being.
- Appropriated Appellation: Cheese, who in the novel is a white and blond Scandinavian, got the name because of his pasty white appearance and kids making fun of him. Said kids later regretted tormenting him.
- As the Good Book Says...: While musing on how it can be possible to survive in a harsh world without sacrificing one's soul and sanity, Kenzie quotes Matthew 10:16- "Behold, I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and gentle as doves."
- Badass Mustache: Lionel in the film, because Titus Welliver had just been shooting Deadwood, though they trimmed it slightly for the movie.
- Bald of Evil: Corwin Earle.
- Berserk Button: Remy absolutely despises people who harm children. Cheese does not take kindly to being viewed as among Their ranks either.
- Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending: Which one it is depends on your viewpoint, but it is not a happy ending by any stretch of the imagination.
- Black and Gray Morality: Most of the characters, both heroes and villains, are some shade of gray. Then there's Corwin Earle and Roberta Trett.
- Brawn Hilda: Roberta Trett, who in the book is described as barely being recognizable as female. Hilariously, the actress who played her in the film is actually a teacher who is beloved by her students.
- Career Resurrection: Though he had been successful with Good Will Hunting and won an Oscar for the screenplay, few, if any, people ever considered that Ben Affleck might still be a talented filmmaker after Gigli flopped.
- Chekhov's Gunman: In the novel, the woman and her son who appear in the very first chapter look like they're completely unrelated to the main plot. It turns out they're actually Brossard's wife, who was a former prostitute and unable to have children of her own or adopt due to her record, and their son, who they obtained in the same way Amanda was "rescued", and the two of them fled the area after Brossard's death
- Children Are Innocent: Remy Bressant and Jack Doyle certainly think so. Perhaps they are a little too attached to the idea.
- Cowboy Cop: Det. Remy Bressant (Broussard in the novel), who's not averse to planting evidence to nail a suspect. Or even to extrajudicial execution for some criminals.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Many of Patricks' friends are drug dealers and criminals but all are appalled by anyone who would harm a child. Cheese stands out as he is a violent psychopath who responds to such accusations poorly. Some of them, such as Stevie, even try to help by putting up posters and Bubba leads cops to where a child murderer is hiding.
- Friend in the Black Market: Bubba. It's not mentioned in the movie, but his apartment is mined against trespassers. By which we mean actual live artillery mines.
- He Who Fights Monsters / Knight Templar: Remy Bressant/Broussard.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Laurent is Cheese.
- Hollywood New England: Mostly averted, since both Dennis Lehane and the Affleck brothers grew up in working-class parts of Boston and are quite familiar with the city and the way people there talk.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: While the Child Abduction Unit clearly had good intentions, they crossed the point of no return as soon as they started going outside the law and murdering people who got in the way.
- Lampshade Hanging: On the fact that Casey Affleck looks much younger than his actual age.
- Late Arrival Spoiler: In the book, several plot elements from a previous novel, Darkness, Take My Hand are discussed, such as the identity of the killer and the fate of Angela's husband, Phil, who was murdered.
- The sequel, Moonlight Mile, by virtue of being a sequel, is also one of these, since the outcome is spoiled on the back cover. Lehane himself says that "the cat's out of the bag" in an interview.
- Locked Out of the Loop: Beatrice had no idea what Lionel had arranged with Bressant, which is why Lionel tries to discourage her from continuing to look for Amanda.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Amanda's abduction was staged by Capt. Doyle and a few others to get her to a proper home.
- Missing White Woman Syndrome: The girl's abduction receives more attention than the abduction and rape and murder of a Hispanic boy around the same time. Averted when Patrick finds out about it and goes apeshit on the perpetrator.
- Also alluded to by Kenzie, who remarks that in the same neighborhood as the one from which Amanda was abducted, half a dozen Cape Verdeans were gunned down on the street and nobody cared in the least.
- My Biological Clock Is Ticking: In the book, Angela asks Patrick if he's ever thought about them having children. At the end of the book they break up, seemingly dashing this, but in a later nove,l they're back together and do have a child.
- Mythology Gag: The "Make me a martini!" scene wasn't in the novel. It's actually a reference to one of Patrick's quotes in Sacred, the third book in the Kenzie and Gennaro Series.
James Bond was cool, sure, but he never had to walk into Patty's Pantry. Hell, just try and order a vodka martini in this neighborhood. Shaken or stirred, your ass was going out a window.
- Not Quite the Right Thing: They save the girl and bring her back to her mother. Good. The mother is a neglectful drug addict who can't even remember her daughter's doll's name. That's not good. The whole point of the story is that the "right thing" and the "wrong thing" aren't always so clear cut. Think about Patrick's state of mind after he kills Corwin Earle, contrasted with how everybody else views the incident: he's wracked with guilt, ashamed at his loss of control and possibly sees himself as a murderer, whereas his colleagues and even his girlfriend think it was justice well deserved. This no doubt affects his choice at the end of the movie, that being: let the little girl have a better quality of life, allowing several murders and a kidnapping to go unpunished (although none of the murder victims were exactly innocents)? Or, do the LAWFULLY right thing, have the murderers and kidnappers arrested and the child returned to her mother - a mother who is a neglectful addict, and who no longer has her relatives watching over her shoulder to make sure she doesn't screw up? Amanda's situation is undoubtedly worse at the end of the film than it was at the start, but Patrick obeyed the law, so he did the right thing, didn't he? Didn't he? The story leaves the audience to work that one out for themselves.
- Summed up by Lehane himself when discussing the sequel, Moonlight Mile:
He's done the right thing, but he was wrong. He's done the wrong thing, but he was right.
- The ending also leaves it open that the mother might change her ways a little due to the experience. Does she deserve that second chance? In the sequel, Amanda herself comes down firmly on the side of "No."
- Papa Wolf: The entire Child Abduction unit in the police, especially Captain Doyle, who lost his daughter. Also Deconstructed once it's revealed that they were the ones who took Amanda.
- Private Detective: Kenzie and Gennaro.
- Psycho for Hire: In the vein of Hawk, Bubba is, among other things, an arms dealer, drug dealer and generally a thug, but he's friends with Patrick and helps him out too.
- Race Lift: Capt. Jack Doyle was originally a white Irishman. In the film, he's Morgan Freeman. Sound familiar?
- Cheese and Devin were originally white guys as well. The commentary reveals that this wasn't an intentional race lift, since they allowed anyone to read for the part and picked the actors based on who did it best.
- Social Services Does Not Exist: Lehane used to work with abused kids.
- Southies: Most of the cast, but Amy Ryan's character in particular.
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: In the novel, Cheese is heavily implied to have been murdered, but the death is reported as an accident. In the movie, Cheese is present at the gorge and gets shot by Bressant, so it's much more obvious that this was indeed a set up.
- Throw It In: Several pieces of dialog from background characters, such as a customer in the bar saying that Patrick has an "ass like a Skippy jar". On the director's commentary, Affleck admits that he started to worry about whether or not the extras, who really are residents of Boston, would take direction or tell them to buzz off.
- Title Drop: Courtesy of Cheese.
- Vigilante Execution: Deconstructed. When Kenzie discovers that Earle has molested and killed the missing boy, he shoots him in cold blood, and though other characters express approval of this act, he still feels guilt for it.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Jack Doyle, Remy, and Nick were thinking of Amanda's best interests and knew all too well how badly children like her can fall through the cracks, but began Jumping Off the Slippery Slope when their scheme escalated to kidnapping and eventually murder.