When I see a movie I really like, and then learn that it is based on a book, well, then I have to immediately go read the book ASAP.
This is what happened when I saw the excellent Gone Baby Gone on Netflix. It stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, and a whole slew of sublime secondary characters – Morgan Freeman, John Ashton, and Ed Harris. Harris especially is the selling point for me. I almost invariably watch and enjoy every movie of his.
Anyway, it was only after watching the movie that I came to know it was based on the book by Dennis Lehane.
What’s the story?
In a nutshell, four-year-old Amanda McCready has gone missing from her Dorchester apartment. Her aunt and uncle ask private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro to help look for her. But they don’t want to do it. There is already plenty of attention on the case from both the police, and the media. Worn down by Amanda’s aunt, they give in and embark on an investigation that leads to unbearably heartbreaking consequences for everybody.
I saw the movie before I read the book, and so I”ll start with that.
The movie is heart-breaking and poignant. The acting is superb. I loved Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan in their lead roles. The secondary characters were also excellent. Everything in the movie flowed very smoothly and I found myself re-watching it a second time (something that is a rarity for me).
However, once I read the book I found myself disappointed with some of the portrayals.
In the book, the character of Angie Gennaro is an equal partner in the solving of the crime. In the movie unfortunately Michelle Monaghan (as Angie) is unforgivably side-lined reduced to just crossing her arms and looking at Patrick in most scenes. Another intriguing character from the book (the wife of one of the villains) is also missing from the movie. Even in the book, she is just a side-character appearing mainly in the prologue and epilogue. But she’s written so powerfully, and has one of the best lines in the book, so it’s a shame that she’s just a wordless character in the movie.
Another more disturbing diversion from the book is the portrayal of a drug dealer who goes by the name of Cheese. In the book, he’s a Nordic character, but in the movie, he’s Haitian. Edi Gathegi plays him brilliantly
I really enjoyed everything about Cheese – so menacing, I got the goosebumps. But I don’t understand why he’s so different from the book version. It’s not just his race they played around with. The whole story at that point gets a little messed up in the movie. It’s such a pivotal point in the story, but the movie reduced it to just a handful of very confusing moments.
Still all these criticisms come from me only because I read the book. If I had watched the movie alone, I would have loved it unconditionally.
Oh! And no discussion of this movie can be complete without mentioning Helene. In the story, Helene is the missing child’s mother. She is an irresponsible and negligent mom. She is a drug addict, and so much worse.
Amy Ryan was nominated Best Supporting Actress for her performance in this film, and she totally deserves all the accolades. She brings a certain amount of vulnerability and pathos to a very unlikable and dark character. Even though she was such a horrible and self-centered person, I could understand how she got that way, and I could feel sorry for her too.
The book of course is more complete. It’s a thick book and has the luxury of being able to expand on the various twists and turns of the case. There is a lot more background information for all the characters, and Lehane really gets into the nitty-gritty details to explain the motivations of the characters. The plot is also a lot more complex, with more subplots than the movie.
That was quite good because the differences between the book and the movie allowed me to stay engrossed. If you remember my post on Gone Girl – the very fact that the movie was so in line with the book plot left me feeling bored with the movie version.
In addition, even though Gone Baby Gone is the fourth book in a series, I was still able to read and enjoy it as a standalone novel.
So which is better? Book or Movie?
So definitely the book kept me gripped as well. But reading the book also brought in me a renewed appreciation for how well the director Ben Affleck (in his directorial debut no less) weaves in the atmosphere of Boston, the casting is spot-on, and oh dear, I have come back to the movie again.
But this is one of those rare cases where the book and the movie are equally well-done. Of course, one might have a personal preference, and though I hate to say it, I think in this case it was the movie. It may not have stayed completely true to the book, but its spirit is the same.
Overall, I think I might have liked the movie a teeny bit better.
What about you? Have you read the book, or seen the movie? If so, which do you like better?