Monday, October 6, 2014

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl
Directed by: David Fincher.
Written by: Gillian Flynn based on her novel.
Starring: Ben Affleck (Nick Dunne), Rosamund Pike (Amy Dunne), Neil Patrick Harris (Desi Collings), Tyler Perry (Tanner Bolt), Carrie Coon (Margo Dunne), Kim Dickens (Detective Rhonda Boney), Patrick Fugit (Officer Jim Gilpin), David Clennon (Rand Elliot), Lisa Banes (Marybeth Elliott), Missi Pyle (Ellen Abbott), Emily Ratajkowski (Andie Hardy), Casey Wilson (Noelle Hawthorne), Lola Kirke (Greta), Boyd Holbrook (Jeff), Sela Ward (Sharon Schieber), Scoot McNairy (Tommy O'Hara).

There has always been a dark, comedic edge to much of David Fincher’s work. As far back as Seven (1995), there have been comedic moments in all of Fincher’s films that can make certain audiences uncomfortable – asking themselves “Is it okay that I’m laughing at this?” For as much as he reputation is based the dark subject matter of his films, Fincher has found the undercurrent of comedy in almost all of his movies. His latest, Gone Girl, is probably his most overtly comic film. A.O. Scott says the film is structured like a romantic comedy – and he’s right – and Matt Zoller Seitz says the first half of the film almost plays like Everyone Love Raymond who May Have Killed His Wife – and he’s right as well. The film is dark in many ways, and tackles some very serious subject matter –but Fincher also knows that there is something comedic here. Working off an excellent screenplay by Gillian Flynn – adapting her own novel the right way – which is essentially paring it down to its essentials, which means that while it doesn’t cover all the same ground as the novel, it translates the spirit of the novel to the screen – Fincher has made a very dark comedy masquerading as a thriller – or perhaps vice versa. Either way, it’s one of the best films of the year.

The film features the best performance of Ben Affleck’s career as Nick Dunne – who seems like a stereotypical, sitcom type husband – a basically well-meaning oaf, who keeps screwing up, but has a wonderfully patient wife who just shakes her head at his shenanigans. The film opens with the disappearance of his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) – and for the first half flashes back in time to show their lives up until that point, through the events described in Amy’s diary, and Nick’s current predicament, as the evidence against him seems to gather force. He cannot seem to do anything right in the eyes of the police – and one thing after another makes him look horrible. It doesn’t help that the case has become a media sensation – drawing the attention of Ellen Abbot (Missi Pyle) – a Nancy Grace clone, who hammers Nick nightly on TV for every mistake he makes. Nick tries to convince everyone that he is innocent – but it sure looks like he’s guilty, doesn’t it? The film then twists at about the half-way point, and turns everything upside down – and becomes a much darker, more sinister movie that examines marriage in the most cynical way possible. Yet, through it all, the movie never ceases to be the pitch black comedy that it truly is.

Affleck is perfectly cast as Nick – I’m not sure if it’s his performance in the film, or just the fact that he is the perfect embodiment of the character that makes him work so well in the role, but no matter – he is perfect. Like his performance in Terence Malick’s To the Wonder – Affleck is perfect physically for the role, and you almost get the sense that all he had to do was show up, and he would perfect. But Affleck does a lot of subtle things in the role that make him perfect. I’ve never thought he was the best actor in the world – but there are some roles that are made for certain actors, and this is one for Affleck. Pike is just as good as Amy – without giving too much away, let me just say that she makes what in many ways could have been an unrealistic role completely relatable – you may just be surprised by how much you identify with her, or at least recognize her as a type. She is in some ways a twisted feminist hero – rallying against the expectations that popular culture thrusts upon women. Debra on Everyone Loves Raymond may have grown frustrated with Raymond, but she always accepted him for who he was. Amy will settle for nothing less than what she thinks she deserves – and if that’s just a fantasy, no matter – it’s what she wants.

Fincher has always had a gift for casting – even when he casts actors you would never suspect in roles. The supporting cast of Gone Girl features a perfect performance by Tyler Perry as Affleck’s lawyer, who it would have been easier to turn into a Johnny Cochrane type showboat, but actually becomes one of the more grounded characters in the film (with the films best laugh line – his last in the movie). Neil Patrick Harris is quietly creepy as a mysterious character out of Amy’s past – Fincher has described him as a type of Claire Quilt (from Lolita) character – and he’s not wrong. Kim Dickens does subtly impressive work as the lead detective – so subtle you may not notice just how good she is. Patrick Fugit says little, but is wonderful as her partner. Cassie Coon is a kind of audience surrogate as Margo – Nick’s twin sister – who wants so desperately to believe him. My favorite supporting performance may well be by Pyle as the Nancy Grace clone Ellen Abbot – seen mostly only on TV – and she does a dead on impression of Grace, while actually dialling it down a little bit (as if doing precisely what Grace would do would be too much comedy for the film) – and she has a great scene, in person, near the end.

The filmmaking by Fincher is, as always, impeccable. The film is dark and violent, and although it runs two an d half hours, it moves at a rapid pace. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again redefines what a score can do in a movie. The film is very funny, but Fincher never overplays his head, turning this into an abject farce – but something even darker. And the film has some real things to say about marriage and relationships – dark things that people most often do not talk about.
I know some will pick on Gone Girl – they already have. They’ve already described Flynn’s novel as trash or an airport novel (if Gone Girl is trash, what they hell does that make Dan Brown) or pick on the plausibility of the story. But Gone Girl isn’t really concerned with plausibility or realism – it’s got bigger, more important things on its mind. The film is disturbing – and like all great black comedies sometimes it makes you laugh out loud, and other times those laughs stick in your throat. I walked out of Gone Girl having had a hell of good time at the movies – but the longer I get away from it, the more disturbing it becomes.

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