Every jungle has its justice. Even if you are a Detective, trying to find a missing child in your own impoverished community, even if you work with your lover and she’s a good business partner and equally great at what she does, even if you find the child and everyone says you are a hero, you’re going to loose something on the way.
His woman, lover, colleague knows intuitively from the outset not to touch this case, and she carefully tries to back out of the job. Maybe they need the money, maybe it appeals to his pride or community feeling, maybe he just remembers the Mother from high school and wants to know what happened to her. A cloud, a web, a trap is being laid, not just for the lost child, but for anyone who tries to find her.
Casey Afleck plays the detective, and not since Tritinant, the unbelievable French actor with a face of stone, have I seen such immobility emote so much. You see everything, thinking, feeling, shame, moral waste, he doesn’t move a muscle but you follow his changes in temperament and the turns in the story, like you’re being dragged down a secret river by an undertow sure to drown you.
When they get close to finding the child, there is a leap into the abyss that takes your breath away. The whole stinking, sinking decent into darkness that is child kidnapping and abuse is that leap? Even in jail, criminals peg these perverts lowest of the low. In a social milieu filled with degradation, there is no step lower on the scale. Murderers of adults feel superior to those who harm children. Maybe they are. But what criteria are you using, and who are you to judge?
There is no Hollywood ending to this story and it’s an honor to see it conclude the way it does. A damaged detective sitting sentinel to a child, not playing, not smiling, not the old and they lived happily ever after, in the last five minutes, after real devastation. He is a silent true guardian and you have the sense he came to earth, is inside his skin, and part of this neighborhood, to do just that. Don’t ever underestimate where the center of humanity is really sitting. It could be in the ghetto you never go to. And the Mother who lost her child, is no more that a child herself. She has not really changed. She still needs the attention she never received, and cannot really give.
There are choices in this film of deep morality, a confrontation that demands to be seen, where criminal justice and human responsibility collide and don’t let go their choke hold, with easy answers. Unlike Mystic River (and this story comes from the same author) when a woman tries to make him a hero, the Detective doesn’t fall for that siren song, to cover his shame.
This is a mature film, by a Director who forces us to adjust our assumptions about who we think we are and about what makes anyone good or evil. Every jungle has its justice, whether in Hollywood, or at home on Boston’s mean streets. That this film ever got made is a justice all its own.