From Page to Screen with Gone Baby Gone: Is the Book Always Better?

My only previous experience with Dennis Lehane was the movie version of Mystic River, but I was impressed by the story and as a result, Gone Baby Gone rose to the top of my to-be-read pile. The book, penned by Lehane in 1998, was later turned into the 2007 film by the same name written by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard. So I checked them both out. In a word? Wow.

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 could change everything for them.

I finished the book about a week before I watched the movie—both for the first time. I debated about waiting longer to watch the movie. The book gave me more than a few bad dreams. I’ve found that books are usually easier for me to get over. I feel like I control more of what I “see” when I read. But Lehane doesn’t have any trouble painting a vivid picture. Especially of the nasty stuff.

And there’s plenty of nasty stuff. Much more of it in the book. Murder, betrayal, abuse, neglect, and corruption to spare. And well-meaning people who may not get it right.

Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan’s characters definitely seemed older in the book.

I tend to pride myself on being able to figure out what has really happened to the victim about a third to a quarter of the way through a book. Quicker with a movie. Since I knew the ending when I watched the movie, it doesn’t count. But Mr. Lehane had me switching my guesses just about every other chapter.

Maybe it was just my bruised pride, but I felt like the end came out of nowhere. Part of it made sense, but part felt like a cop-out. The movie didn’t play fair with the ending either. So I guess in that way, it was quite true to book.

The movie’s pace was faster than the book’s. Not surprising when you take a four hundred and twelve page paperback and compress it into a one hundred and fourteen minute movie. There were characters lost, name changes and characters who looked nothing like their physical descriptions in the book.

The most noticeable change was the age of the Gennaro and Kenzie. Might have been me, but Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan seemed about ten years younger than their characters were in the book. Could be Hollywood’s youth bias. Could be nepotism. It could just be that with every year that passes, I have a harder time determining people’s ages. I’ve seen kids driving who look about twelve. So what do I know?

Amy Ryan (The Wire, The Office) was nominated for Best Female Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards for her role of Helene McCready.

My preference? While the movie had superb writing, acting and directing going for it, I’m voting for the book. Hands down. No contest.

But, Debbie, it gave you nightmares.

Exactly.

Lehane’s language and plotting were so tight, so realistic, that I have to go for the book. Forget about the surprise, twist (to me, anyway) ending. That’s kind of realistic, too. We don’t always figure out what’s coming. Endings don’t always come tied up with a nice bow on top. Actually, they rarely do. And when they do, we’re probably not really at the end.

The movie is definitely worth a watch. But curl up with the book first. Let the author paint pictures in your head. They may give you a few sleepless nights, but that’s a small price to pay for being able to sink into the words.

Now I need to go find a copy of A Drink Before The War so I can start the series at the beginning. Guess I need to prepare for some more bad dreams.


Debbie Meldrum reads just about everything she can get her hands on. She was the short fiction editor for Apollo's Lyre and the Editor in Chief of the Pikes Peak Writers NewsMag. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel.

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