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Fall movie season kicks off with the excellent “Gone Girl”

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By Thomas Kika

Contributing Writer

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   “Gone Girl,” adapted from the wildly successful Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, is a brutal portrait of love and marriage in the 21st century as only Hollywood’s favorite cynic, David Fincher, could bring us.  Sleek, tense and pitch-dark, it’s a frightening work that is sure to inspire conversation.

   To start, our story follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a failed sports writer living in Missouri, whose wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), mysteriously vanishes on their fifth wedding anniversary.  In contrast to Nick’s almost comically ordinary, corn-fed Midwest boy, Amy is a native of New York City’s upper-crust, who served as the basis for her parents beloved series of “Amazing Amy” children’s books.  This notoriety puts a sizable media spotlight on the investigation of her disappearance, blowing it up from a small-town missing-persons case to a media sensation.

As clues come to light, police begins to suspect Nick had a hand in whatever has happened to his wife.  Things are not helped by Nick’s suspiciously nonchalant reaction to the whole affair, and revelations about their less than amazing marriage.

   That is only about half the movie, though.  To say any more would give away the real hand that “Gone Girl” intends to play, and what really makes it such a head-spinning doozy of a thriller.  While it begins to unspool as a sharp investigative drama, the film eventually flips the table and becomes something else entirely.  Suffice it to say, “Gone Girl” is best enjoyed without prior knowledge.

Credit: insidemoviesew.com Rosamund Pike stars as Amy in “Gone Girl.”
Credit: insidemoviesew.com
Rosamund Pike stars as Amy in “Gone Girl.”

   The film finds celebrated director David Fincher in the perfect setting to exercise his best tendencies, as Flynn’s novel gives him much more fascinating and twisty material to work with than his last best seller adaptation, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The result is a much more effective, on-point film.  His signature dark color palette and cold, distant shot compositions are right at home in such a dark atmosphere.  The story’s thematic exploration of marriage as a prison, a carefully managed façade, or both, give Fincher (the dark-hearted social critic) the opportunity to put the modern state of marriage and monogamy under the microscope, or, perhaps on the cold slab for dissection of what’s left.

   Flynn herself wrote the screenplay here, and in her it seems that Fincher has found a collaborator on his exact wavelength.  Beyond Flynn’s magnificent gift for sharp, hilariously mean-spirited dialogue, she seems to share Fincher’s coldly critical view of society.  Her story is populated with characters who are varying degrees of dishonest, stuck-up, blood-thirsty, simple-minded, or easily-manipulated, and in certain strokes, some of these traits almost seem necessary for the characters’ survival in the 21st Century.  It’s a mind set perfectly matched to director who found the petty humanity at the center of Facebook in “The Social Network,” or the emptiness of anarchic platitudes in “Fight Club,” and one can’t help but get excited to see what is in store for them in the future as creative partners.

   Ben Affleck, here making a quick pit-stop between acclaimed directorial efforts and punching Superman in the face, sets a high watermark for his career as a performer.  While his Nick starts out as the kind of affable oaf Affleck excels at, conflict soon reveals him as an elusive creature.  Is he the sociopath people suspect, or is he really just that stupid?  Through it all, Affleck never lets you completely side with Nick thanks to his layered and nuanced portrayal.

   Still, Affleck at his best here can’t help but get blown away by Rosamund Pike as Amy.  This is a revelatory turn for Pike, finally getting a major leading role to sink her teeth into after a decade of supporting work, and sink her teeth she does.  Amy is a quietly vicious character, and Pike revels in every minute of it.  To elaborate further would again spoil the fun, but know that this is the kind of work that reshapes careers irrevocably.  It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Pike does not get a Best Actress nod come Oscar time.

   The rest of cast is aces as well.  The big standouts are Carrie Coon as Margo, Nick’s sympathetic twin sister and the closest thing the film has to a moral center, and Neil Patrick Harris as an unnerving figure from Amy’s past.  Also worth noting is Tyler Perry, finally finding a foothold in the world of serious drama as Tanner Bolt, a hotshot attorney known for defending suspected wife-killers who takes on Nick’s case.

   If the film has any fault, it is that things occasionally get just a bit too lurid and pulpy to gel with the grounded tone Fincher maintains throughout.  As things progress, the story goes from thoughtful meditation to something like vicious satire, and it would have benefitted from a shift in style to reflect that.  Fincher is certainly capable of stylized reality, as evidenced by “Fight Club.  This is hardly a deal breaker, but it is noticeable.

   At two hours and 29 minutes, “Gone Girl” is a lengthy sit, but it is difficult to notice as it effortlessly moves forward, expertly paced and able to hit the audience with provocative ideas and images at each new turn.  It comes highly recommended and bodes well as the start of the fall 2014 movie season.

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