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Thursday, October 2, 2014

‘Gone Girl’ Is Wicked Fun (Movie Review)

Gone Girl:  4 ½ out of 5

Tanner Bolt: Whatever they found, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s very bad.

Part mystery-thriller, part sly commentary, Gone Girl finds director David Fincher working hard to bring Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel to life.  The result is a very entertaining feature that is able to straddle the line of darkness thanks to its many twists and turns, strong performances, a great amount of dark humor, and the sort of technical excellence expected from David Fincher and his crew.  For whatever reason, just because this film seems to stem from the more serious, prestigious side of Hollywood, many want to stack it next to its Oscar potential.  I do not quite see that, but what I did see was a modern film imbued with the spirit of pulpy crime novels, resulting in a fine example of what can come out of Hollywood, when a great amount of talent is involved and put to good use.


The film is centered on the disappearance of author Amy Elliot-Dunne (a terrific Rosamund Pike).  Maybe she has been kidnapped.  Maybe she has been murdered.  We have no real idea when first coming across the situation.  Amy’s husband, Nick Dunne (a never-better Ben Affleck), seems to be clueless as well, though he certainly acts indifferent about it.  That indifference does not help, as a media circus puts Nick into the spotlight, allowing the country to hate him for possibly committing a crime, despite the lack of a body and all kinds of weird clues pointing in various directions.

At two and a half hours, there is certainly a lot of film here.  Good thing the story is incredibly compelling, as plenty of twists and turns occur on a frequent level and Fincher finds a way to keep things moving quite swiftly.  Editor Kirk Baxter, who won Oscars for his work on Fincher’s last two films (The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is not only tasked with making the pace work, but does proper justice to framing this film around its key characters and giving audiences just enough, when the time calls for it.  I should state that I have not read the book, but I am aware of its structure, and given how we perceive certain characters, I was completely hooked in, thanks to the way in which we saw them.


Ben Affleck is ideal casting here.  Given that the man has been admired (Oscar winner), hated (Gigli), loved again (another Oscar), and dragged back into scrutiny (for playing Batman of all things), the role of Nick Dunne is a perfect fit.  This is a character that is clearly not to be trusted from the outset, given the way he acts, but how much does that matter?  Could Nick be guilty, could he just be in shock, or is it something else?  There are shades to this persona and Affleck does great work in a subtle part.  Rosamund Pike has interesting shades to play as well, given that she is largely seen via flashbacks and heard through voiceovers.  It is best to leave it there, but with Gone Girl working hard to examine a marriage taken to its extremes, both actors are in top form.

Casting praise does not stop at the top either.  Gone Girl is full of familiar faces who all fit quite well into this film.  Carrie Coon (from HBO’s The Leftovers) is Margo, Nick’s twin sister, who wants to stick with her brother no matter what, and she functions as a great sounding board and quick-witted character that can feel so effortlessly involved, regardless of importance.  Further adding on to the female cast (and this is a film full of female characters, all with different roles to play, effectively turning the film away from standard genre approaches to gender balance), Kim Dickens nails her role as Detective Rhonda Boney, who has a respect for the case that allows her to never seem ill-equipped to take on the challenge, even if she is ill-informed of certain aspects about it.  Dickens is strong enough here to make it easy for her Detective partner (Patrick Fugit) to add plenty just through his facial expressions, rather than actual dialogue.


Two other key characters have plenty to add as well.  One is Tyler Perry’s defense attorney character, Tanner Bolt.  Some may have a certain perception of Perry, but Gone Girl allows him to show off a level of natural confidence that perfectly fits into the cynical world that this film presents.  The other character is Missi Pyle’s Ellen Abbot, a TV host clearly inspired by Nancy Grace.  While this character is purposefully grating, it also functions as Gone Girl’s way of taking on clear digs at our media-obsessed culture.  Beyond the actual mystery, the film has plenty of fun presenting the news’ perspective of the story in a way that seems plausibly lifted from reality.

The media world easily serves as a way for Gone Girl to function in such an entertaining manner.  It pushes characters to certain limits and has the audience both seeing the inside and outside of a scenario that provides for a mix of frustration and intrigue as to where it all goes.  Really, knowing where this film goes or figuring out certain elements mattered little to me.  Figuring out certain twists along the way, for this film, seems less like an accomplishment and more like a helpful way to do less work, when the film has so much going on, in an effort to get the most out of its many reveals.  A key reveal about an hour into the film certainly takes things to a new level, but even then, there is so much joy to get out of the new dynamics that are presented.



It is fun to use the word ‘joy’, as Gone Girl really is a lot of fun.  There is dark material here, yes, and whether it is in the language or the imagery, ‘graphic’ is a way to describe the film as well, but it is handled with such maturity and style.  Whether it is in the dialogue (here I should note that Flynn also serves as screenwriter), or the superb visual style of the film (Fincher’s frequent collaborator Jeff Cronenweth handles the film’s cinematography), I was never feeling drained by Gone Girl.  Fincher has created a grim sense of reality before and with great success in a film like Seven, while also playing up the cold and unforgiving sense of the world in a film like ‘Dragon Tattoo’.  With Gone Girl, the attitude, gripping story, and brutally funny nature of it all puts it in the same tonal league as Fight Club or even The Social Network; Fincher films that could be considered ‘a joy’ to watch.

I have gone all this way and I have not even mentioned the tremendous score by the Oscar-winning duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.  Teaming up with Fincher for the third time in a row, the complexity of the musical arrangement needed to develop such a distinctive sound for this film, which moves back and forth between relaxing and intense, is perfectly suited to a film that accomplishes so much within the bounds of a pulp novel found in most grocery stores.  That is hardly a dig at the material however, as it is brimming with life, regardless of how dark the subject matter may be, with a lot of strong minded people, both in front of and behind the camera, doing very good work.  I may not feel that Fincher deserves some sort of Oscar for this film, but seeing his superb craft on display in a Hollywood thriller for adults is plenty for me this time around.


Det. Jim Gilpin: You ever hear the expression that the simplest answer is often the correct one?
Det. Rhonda Boney: Actually, I never found that to be true.




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