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Who Took Johnny
2014 - - 81 Mins.
Director: David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley
Producer: David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley
Written By: David Beilinson, Michael Galinsky, Suki Hawley
Starring: Noreen Gosch, John Gosch Sr
Review by: David Rolston
Official Site:

A parent's worst nightmare
Parents of young children perceive the world quite differently than people did only a few decades ago. We live in an era where there is tremendous fear that our children could be victimized by strangers, and subsequently modern parenting now involves a high degree of anxiety, parental monitoring and paid supervision.

We have sex offender registries, amber alerts, background checks for anyone working with or coaching children, and a culture that is highly sensitive to and demands law enforcement prioritize any case where a child might be missing or unaccounted for.

However, it was not all that long ago that the attitudes and approach to parenting was very different. Adolescence often came with far less supervision than the current norm. Children were welcome to explore the world on their own recognizance, often for long periods of time. Adults were not on guard or even aware that there could be predators focused on their children, waiting for an opportunity to abduct them.

In the 1980's a number of highly publicized cases where children had disappeared would culminate in profound societal and attitudinal change. These changes ran the gamut from additions to the vernacular, to public policy, to pictures of missing children on milk cartons, to new laws you might otherwise think we have always had, but are actually relatively modern developments.

Of these cases, one of the least known and most controversial is the disappearance of twelve year old Johnny Gosch, in September of 1982. Gosch had been seen by a number of other paperboys delivering newspapers in the Des Moines, Iowa neighborhood where he lived.

In the riveting enigmatic documentary "Who took Johnny" the Gosch case is examined via a series of interviews with those most familiar to the case, most notably with Johnny's mother Noreen. It is dense with archival footage and a good deal of material that was at one time intended for an abandoned Discovery channel documentary being made by a Yorkshire television production company. The cancellation of that project is one of the many unresolved mysteries touched upon in this dense story that is the very embodiment of Mark Twain's famous "Truth is stranger than fiction" quote.

There are so many questions raised, coincidences and unexpected connections, and assertions of a vast and truly shocking conspiracy, it simply defies believability at times. The film is able to sidestep these questions by sticking to Noreen's narrative and point of view. Often when allegations seem too incredible to be true, there is tantalizing evidence presented in support of what could otherwise just as easily be explained away as the byproduct of the unresolved grief of a mother denied civic support or closure.

As a film, "Who took Johnny" isn't really all that interested in the question posed in the title of the film. The story is so expansive, and at times hyperbolic, that it would be difficult to contain or adequately explore all the twists and turns in the tale. The writer/directors wisely don't spend too much time exploring all the allegations, facts and theories and never challenge the statements of its central character even when they are particularly hard to fathom. "Who Took Johnny" might otherwise have devolved into a run of the mill true crime TV episode.

Ultimately the film is a biography and portrait of Noreen Gosch, who whether you believe her or not, is charismatic, articulate and incredibly sympathetic. The film documents her unapologetic outrage and singular pursuit for answers that began the morning her son disappeared. What the film makes clear is that ultimately her search for her son would come to shape the world as we know it. The fact that so few people have ever heard of Noreen or Johnny Gosch is a reflection of the vast differences in the way news, media and information are disseminated today. Given the salacious details revealed, it is virtually unimaginable that Noreen and her son would not be household names if this had happened today. It seems clear that the original case was handled with insensitivity and either ineptitude or something worse.

"Who took Johnny" serves as a valuable historic document from our recent past, while also being a fascinating biography of an amazing woman who experiences unimaginable duress and sorrow, and manages to transcend the morays and expectations of her generation.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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