Movie Reviews

A Good Baby – Good vs. Evil in Appalachia

Written by Leon Rooke and Katherine Dieckmann
Directed by Katherine Dieckmann

Every now and then I come across a movie I never heard of and wonder why. A Good Baby is one of those films. Party mystery and part character study, it features some familiar actors reaching for some terrific performances.

Henry Thomas is Raymond Toker, a young man living in the mountains of North Carolina who discovers a baby in the woods one day while he’s out hunting squirrel.

He takes care of the girl, trying to find out who her mother is or someone who will take her. When he encounters the creepy traveling salesman, Truman Lester, he is immediately afraid to even let him hold the child. The implication is that the baby is the child that Truman’s underage girlfriend was pregnant with when he was shown in the beginning of the film.

The film slowly unravels the mystery surrounding the baby and also slowly gives us more and more details about the characters in the film. Everything about Raymond isn’t shown upfront so I could understand his actions. He’s a recluse and the reason isn’t given right off the bat. However, he has an absolute devotion to the child that kept me rooting for him even when I wasn’t sure of his motivation.

After Raymond has first found the child, he’s trying to find out who’s it is or at the very least, someone to take care of it in the small, economically depressed town he lives in. The film has the feeling of being set in the 1970’s, although a time for what I was viewing was never really given. Although the town overall seems to take care of it’s own throughout the story, no one wants to lay claim to the child nor take it in and care for it.

When Raymond knocks at the door of Josephine Priddy (Cara Seymour) that things take a slow turn. She’s someone who has “a reputation” in the town and is looking to leave and find a better life. She’s not willing to take in the child but does take Raymond under her wing, so to speak.

Meanwhile, Truman is skulking around the town, having encountered Raymond and the child at the local filling station and general store. He seems to know the child is his, but is being pulled in a variety of directions. On one hand he seems to want the grounding that a family would bring while on the other he is afraid of the fallout when it’s learned that a middle-aged man impregnated an underage girl. Then there’s the question of just where the mother is and how the baby managed to end up alone all by itself in the woods.

The baby is the center of the film. In addition to being an absolutely beautiful and expressive child, it seems to have an amazing temperament as well. She’s sympathetic in the way an innocent baby only can be. There’s no way anyone can think she’s somehow done something to deserve the situation she’s been cast in as she’s mere days old throughout the picture.

This was Director Katherine Dieckmann’s first film, and she does a terrific job. There’s no rushing to tell the story or fill in the pieces of the puzzle that are missing. She has the ability to hold the story back and let it unfold at it’s own pace. The film itself is beautiful with great lighting and camera angles from Raymond’s “rabbit hole” existence to walking through the woods, to the dim lighting of the General Store. She’s got a real good feel for creating the air of despair of an economically depressed town without ever having a character launch into a monologue about the mill that closed or the mine that the owners abandoned.

Henry Thomas does a great job here as Raymond. In some ways it’s reminiscent of his role in E.T. The performance is extremely low-key. There’s no passionate declaration of love for Josephine, nor outward declaration that he’ll care for the child. He just sort of assumes the role when there’s no one else, and by the end of the film I understood why he was quick to attach to the child and assume the role of her protector. Had he found a family to take the baby in, I still had the feeling he would have been looking in on her and checking up on her.

David Strathairn portrays Truman and gives a terrific performance although he’s in danger of being typecast in the pedophile role between this film and his performances in Misery and Blue Car. Throughout the film his character seems to descend further and further into darkness as he sees the child he created as being his only salvation and becomes more desperate. His role is sinister without being over-the-top. At the same time he’s looking for the grounding that a family would give him, he’s also presented as being a danger to the child. Strathairn gives this performance the typical slick salesman while at the same time having that sinister edge to it. If not for the short piece in the beginning, there would be no definitive reason to dislike the man initially, but he’s still got a creepiness to him that sets me on edge.

The soundtrack was terrific. The music really gave the feeling of the time and place with folksy tunes hinting at the backwoods style I first saw in Deliverance. All of the supporting roles are played good as well, although most of them are overshadowed by the performances of Thomas and Strathairn.

This is a great slow-moving character piece that’s a wonderful little story, even if in many ways it’s predictable. I thoroughly enjoyed it the evening I sat down to watch it.

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