Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GONE GIRL (2014)

Written by Gillian Flynn

Directed by David Fincher

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA October 6, 2014 5:35PM

I think "Gone Girl" is the first film I've ever seen that begins as a tense, foreboding mystery and as the story unfolds, evolves in to an outrageously deranged satire. But in the masterful hands of David Fincher, this transformation is seamless and absolutely perfect. Based on the mega best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, the director audaciously examines the explosive sexual politics of marriage, especially in these modern times where the role of women is constantly in flux between their traditional position and a more complicated, liberated role in the relationship. The film also takes a look at our preconceived ideas on guilt and innocence and how the media now has the power to shape these opinions.

On the morning of his fifth anniversary to his lovely wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) begins the day very low-key by visiting the under performing bar he owns with his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). When he returns home, something seems strangely amiss. The door has been left open and the furniture in the living room is shattered yet Nick doesn't appear overly concerned. He calls the police and Detective Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive to investigate. With a coffee cup never leaving her hand, the detective goes through the house, marking suspicious areas with yellow post-its, and peppering the missing woman's husband with a barrage of questions.

Days go by, a search party is formed and Amy's parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) go in front of the cameras to beg for their daughter's safe return. Nick, at the press conference, comes across as passive and oddly detached. Once television crime evangelist, Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle doing a spot-on Nancy Grace type) goes in front of her large-scale audience and proclaims Nick must be guilty due to his strange behaviour, he soon becomes the only logical suspect. But is he actually responsible for his wife's disappearance? If you have read "Gone Girl", then you know exactly how guilty Nick Dunne actually is. If not (like myself), then you will be able to savor all of the surprising twists and turns without any expectations. Nothing in this apparent crime, nor the couple's marriage, is what it appears to be on the surface. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn more about Nick and Amy from their early courtship to the more challenging marital times when Nick loses his job as writer and the couple having to move from New York to a small town in Missouri to care for his ailing mother.

Ms Flynn, a one-time film critic for my favorite magazine about entertainment, "Entertainment Weekly",  was lucky to get the unusual opportunity to have a hand on the screenplay and creates a solid adaption of her work. The author was also fortunate enough to have arguably one of the best film makers working today to be involved on the project. With a history of tackling stories that explores the darker side of human relationships which includes "Fight Club", "Zodiac" and "The Social Network", Mr. Fincher is in his element and brings his somber visual flair to these proceedings. The director receives invaluable help from his long-time crew who all have been recognized numerous times by the Academy for their work with him. This includes cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth, editor, Kirk Baxter and the eerie musical score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Mr. Affleck has become a well-regarded director with the films, "Gone Baby Gone", "The Town" and the 2012 Best Picture, "Argo" but as an actor, he's been adequate but never has done anything particularly noteworthy. That is now in the past as the Oscar-winner gives an impressive full-bodied performance that is sly, edgy and unpredictable. As more evidence piles up against his character, he makes you begin to doubt his involvement yet still never seeming to be completely guilt-free.

Reese Witherspoon is a producer of the film and flirted with the idea of playing Amy. While she may have been perfectly fine in the part but Mr. Fincher had another thought and that's when Ms Pike enters the picture. The British actress has been around for a while, making supporting appearances in films such as "Die Another Day" and  "An Education" but never made much of a solid impression. Clearly the director saw something in her and his instincts have paid off. Much like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction", Ms Pike's performance in "Gone Girl" will completely alter her career. She is mesmerizing as a woman caught between struggling to be the good wife and wanting no part of that role. To simply state she displays a crazy range of emotions would be a true understatement.

The supporting players are uniformly excellent with surprising nice turns from actors far better known for their comedic roles, Tyler Perry as Nick's lawyer and Neil Patrick Harris perfectly creepy as Amy's old flame but special mention must be made about Ms Dickens and Ms Coon. These actresses have made their mark previously on television (both on popular HBO shows; Dickens on "Deadwood" and "Treme". Coon in the recent hit, "The Leftovers") and the stage (Coon was a Tony nominee for the recent revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe") but their juicy roles here give them a shining opportunity to play a strong, fully-developed female character which, sadly, is rare these days in cinema.

Sure, a few of the plot points, while quite clever, don't hold up under closer scrutiny but "Gone Girl" is so good that it's hardly a distraction. The combination of Gillian Flynn's deft skills as a storyteller and the stylish artistry of David Fincher has made this film one of the very best of the year. They have managed to take a unsettling subject matter and make it highly entertaining and thoroughly unforgettable.