Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (2007) - Supporting Actress Sundays

I hated most of Mystic River (Clint Eastwood's cartoonish morality fable from a few years back) and found The Departed (Scorsese's trophy snagging triumph) to be occasionally diverting but generally dull. So, when MrStinky's boyfriend Ben Affleck came along with his feature film directorial debut, I was, um, nonplussed. "Oh yay," I thought, "Another missing child/corrupt cop drama in which 'Boston plays a character'..." But then the reviews kept turning up stronger than expected, with MrStinky's Boyfriend Ben emerging fairly triumphant. (Indeed, though he'll likely never be Scorsese, Affleck might just be on his way to being his generation's Eastwood, heaven help us.) But what got me to the googaplex to actually screen the picture? Only what is perhaps this year's most uniformly acclaimed female performance...

...Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone (2007).
approximately 13 minutes and 47 seconds
14 scenes

roughly 12% of film's total running time

Amy Ryan plays Helene McCready, the mother of an abducted child who finds herself at the center of a rapidly amplifying mystery.
Ryan quickly establishes Helene as a woman inclined to bad decisions, for whom her daughter's abduction is but another bit of damage to add to the steadily growing pile of wreakage already accumulated in her recent past.
Ryan's Helene also -- somewhat startlingly, given the circumstances -- wears a prideful defiance, disregarding conventional wisdom and authority with an adolescent zeal. Indeed, whether bridling rebelliously under her sister-in-law's watchful reprobation or giddily bantering about "faggots" from the backseat, Ryan's Helene seems more like a surly fifteen year old girl than a mother who's child is missing.
This mix of adolescent defiance and selfish cluelessness proves to be the foundation for Amy Ryan's deceptively simple work in crafting Helene. The characterization requires that Helene must make a vivid brief impression in anticipation of an extended sequence of scenes in which she slowly begins to apprehend the gravity of her missing daughter's situation, to be followed by a set of quick shots under voiceover or in flashback, and concluding with a haunting coda.
But the main task for Ryan? To demonstrate that Helene is perhaps the single character in Gone Baby Gone to remain fundamentally unchanged by the traumatic circumstances her daughter's abduction. So, Ryan must craft a character who doesn't actually change even as the bulk of her work on screen depicts her slowly shifting consciousness about the reality of the situation. And to her credit, Ryan accomplishes these seemingly contradictory arcs with clarity, ease and a wicked Boston accent.
The script needs Helene to be just awful -- selfish, arrogant, irresponsible, unappealing, tacky -- and Ryan definitely hits those marks. But rather than simply playing everything to one or another hilt, Ryan's Helene maintains a level of complexity that permits the story to work. Even though everything she does is utterly unsurprising in its beastly selfishness, somehow Ryan is able to sustain Patrick's (Casey Affleck) -- and, by extension, the audience's -- naive hope that she'll pull it together and do the right thing.
All told, the only real fault I find with Ryan's performance is that, in crafting Helene's broad affect, she neglects to visibly score the nuances of terror -- the history of abuse and trauma -- that Helene's almost certainly experienced previously, against which her garish fa├žade serves as pathetic defense. Ryan nails the lame bravado, but skimps on whatever's underneath. I'm sure the texture's in the performance; we just don't get to see much of it on screen.
Helene is, in many ways, a perfect Supporting Actress role. Helene dominates her every scene, even looming over many in which she doesn't appear; moreover, the mere idea of Helene motivates almost every other character's action in Gone Baby Gone. Ryan's work in this perfect storm of supporting actressness efficiently crafts both Helenes -- monstrous phantom and messed-up person -- with integrity, clarity and zeal. An absolutely worthy contender for this year's trophy...


RBurton said...

It was bizarre several critics groups cited her also for her work on Before the Devil Knows You're Dead where she only gets to verbally castrate Ethan Hawke.

Among the supporting actresses, nobody had a more intensely unlikable character. She brings so much more to it that it's a three-dimensional character that intrigues you more than it disgusts.

Cinemaniac said...

I, too, despise the cockspit that is Mystic River. I only remotely cared for Robbins and Gay Harden, as I feel for the royally screwed over.

But this Lehane adaptation was actually quite fantastic. And aside from the omgwtflolbbq generated by a dual Affleck awesomenessity, Ryan really turned in one fantastic character portrayal. So committed to the character, so full of energy...just saying "cock" or "cunt" is done with such effortless ease and complete nuance. She had me talking like her for nearly a week, too.

For example, my mom was all: "Where are my pizza bagels?"
And I'm like "In ya twat, FAAAACK YOOOOOO."

Needless to say, that took some explanation...but for Miss Ryan, it was well worth it.

It's a shame I can't see her winning the Oscar, but one day, I feel that she will.

StinkyLulu said...

I hear ya, cinemaniac.

I seriously considered using a screencap of Helene's best friend DAHTTEE as my avatar, but was afraid I'd start dressing like her...

Rural Juror said...

I really want to see this movie. Badly.

Laura Linney was the only person I liked in Mystic River.

Cinemaniac said...

Oh, the sexy horror that image conjures up, Lulu.

There should be a spinoff miniseries on FX about those two. I smell Emmys and FCC protests up the fuzzy wazoo.

P.S. I notice Lulu that you're a bit of an Idol obsesser, like myself. If you'd like, you should check out my rundown of the Top 24 on my blog ;D.

Brooke Cloudbuster said...

I like that this performance picked up traction enough for awards. While maybe not great enough to be sweeping all the critic's awards it did; it's a very good performance in quite a strong field. (And indeed; the best performance the field has seen in the last decade, which I can't wait to see you review!)