Sunday, October 12, 2014

Gone Girl (2014)

Gone Girl movie review
Photo Credit: Gone Girl / 20th Century Fox
In the heart of a sleepy Missouri town, the Dunnes seem to be facing the ultimate crisis. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) discovers his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) has vanished from their home. Appearing uninterested nor fearful about his spouse's disappearance, Nick's cool exterior rouses the suspicions of Detective Rhonda Boney, the town, and then the entire nation. Following the footsteps of other classic spousal thrillers like Rebecca and Fatal AttractionGone Girl is not like most cinematic marriages.

Flashbacks expose the beginning of their romantic union, carnal desires, and dreams of the future. As the daughter of successful authors who created a children's series about her life, Amy is amazing; the Cool Girl who seems absolutely perfect. Nick is her white knight armed with insatiable charm, pandering to anyone who makes him feel like the man he wants to be. As the years tick by, and the Dunnes crash into reality, both Amy and Nick stop pretending. Like doting singletons who polish their online dating profiles and use flattering photos of themselves instead of accurate ones, their facades wear away. Flickers of domestic abuse, financial strains, and adultery emerge. The movie is not about how Amy goes missing, but how domestic entrapment, dominance, and submission reveals who we truly are versus how we sell ourselves and when the jig is finally up.

Author Gillian Flynn has established an impressive reputation since 2012 when her novel Gone Girl flew off the shelves and captivated readers. One of her next moves was to adapt her bestselling story to film. What better voice of authority to bring such a complex narrative of two dueling perspectives to the screen than the writer herself. It's a tricky ambition that for the most part succeeds.

Who took Amy? is a subtle question behind the entire story as Nick is the major source of suspicion. Essentially, like the book, the movie is broken up into three parts. Adhering to the book's split narrative between Amy and Nick's perspectives, the masquerade of the loving husband trope is built into the first half of the film and then brutally dissected as Amy's mask is peeled away for the latter two-thirds of the film.

If it wasn't Amy's diary entries giving us a tour through their ill-fated relationship, my biggest struggle was Nick's hour, which was a perfectly-wrapped concept of Nick I couldn't buy. There are probably those that disagree with me but the novel is certainly Amy's story. The film reaches to put a stronger focus on Nick, milking him as the doe-eyed sympathetic husband than he really is in the novel. His violent and ignorant misdeeds are only hinted at from the books, elements that really made you understand how the pair almost perfect for each other. Nick and his sister Margo sneak by with a lot of trash talk towards Amy who is painted (from his perspective) as the never-satisfied precocious money-hugging perfectionist nag who deserved to go missing (maybe even be physically harmed, psychologically tormented, or killed). Some skeletons come out of his closet as the investigation seizes their property, his privacy, and good boy image. But they aren't structured in a way that we feel he is responsible for his actions; instead, the story tries to sell us that his decisions are entirely Amy's fault.

Obviously, Flynn's novel is best interpreted by her instead of a studio shadow-writer who probably would've mutilated her story. And she definitely shines unforgettable attention on Amy's multi-faceted personality. When Amy becomes the sole focus during the second and third acts, this is where the movie has a heart-racing climatic pulse. I don't feel like I'm being sold on the idea of a protagonist I should root for when he's unrootable. However, similarly to Nick, important elements of her backstory also end up in the cutting room floor such as the mistreatment of her parents, how Nick truly took advantage of her financially and sexually, and expected her to play the role of a wife who follows him around like a lap dog; things that give her grounds for how she goes missing and why. Amy, and therefore Rosamund Pink, instills such voracious energy, she finally kicks this story to a level that's full throttle.

Similar to the world-renown fantasy adventure Life of Pi, Flynn's novel was considered an impossible book to transform to film. Due to the script's subtlety, a collection of movie watchers is left labeling the movie misogynist, anti-feminist, etc. Flynn's balance relies on creating alliances that we switch to from one section to the next. Successfully, she piles on details that we don't necessarily have to question but do a double-take on their entire relationship and what parts of it were a facade. Unsuccessfully, I felt like excluded details from the book misapprehends the ambition of glorious Amy.

As much as Flynn has been the "it" girl of the thriller literary world, and now film, nothing may surpass the praise for the film's leading star Rosamund Pike (Ben Affleck stars in this too, but I'll get back to him). A lot of characters in cinema are passed off as complicated but ultimately have the range of a teaspoon. Believe it when readers and movie goers alike say that Amy is a mosaic of sophisticated complexity; a calculating, intelligent, emotional and psychological enigma-cake you can't stop gorging on.

From visions of the past to the depraved present, Pike is a cunning presence. This is genuinely the role of a lifetime: a thoughtful dedicated mysterious actress that didn't make Amy a generic caricature of a psycho bitch; who crafted every scene as slick as a spider: graceful, hypnotic, venomous. She frighteningly weaves a chilling, dramatic, and even humorous, performance that may have to claw its way to the top of the Oscar pack instead of just being given a nod on a gold platter.

Alongside Pike is Ben Affleck starring as Nick. Often criticized for his limited acting range, the past few years has garnered more praise. Playing the husband whose mother always taught him not to do onto others as they will do onto you, he easily becomes the self-effacing man who seems like everyone's charming savior. This somewhat leaves him as the bland protagonist painted as the poor-suffering man caught in Amy's web, which he is, but there are other layers to him that could've made him more dynamic and interesting...and not quite sure Affleck has the entire chops to pull it off.

The laundry list of supporting actors can't also be easily forgotten either: Tyler Perry (as the hotshot criminal lawyer), Neil Patrick Harris (as a friend from Amy's past), and Carrie Coon (as Nick's twin sister). Impressively Amy's mother played by Lisa Banes has very limited screen time but makes the most of it. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't utilize her as much as I would've liked (disappearing from the movie almost halfway through) but her stern, disapproving, and haughty performance is truly memorable. Everyone works well within the wheelhouse they're given.

Ultimately, Flynn found a great partner in director David Fincher known for such mind-bending flicks as Fight Club, Se7en, and Zodiac. As trained monkeys who might be used to watching Fincher's films, which are obsessively laced in detail-orientation, we aim to question the intricate placing of every frame. Another director couldn't nearly accomplish the firm and experienced hand Fincher brings to this juggernaut thriller satire, which pushes one to question everything you're being led to believe.

Despite the dramatic depth Fincher's work, his filmography is filled with Who Dun Its and Who Can Do That?!s. Restrained in Missouri to two unreliable characters, we have nothing and no one to really trust. We doubt our ability of discerning who is telling the truth. Enhancing the confined setting of the Missing Amy probe is the hypnotizing soundtrack by Trent Razor and Atticus Ross. The humdrum nature of the small town is noted (with what sounds like) water dripping from a sink. When the investigation gains media attention and riles up a nation, the soundtrack amplifies with rapid heartbeats and drums. Every twist and turn of the story are etched with a calming yet leery arrangement; similarly how every scene is composed.

Walking out of Gone Girl I was compounded with a lot of thoughts: elated for conquering the long-awaited hype, satisfied with the adaptation but also nagged by something empty and feeling slightly unfulfilled. The dissolution of the Dunnes forces us to feel like we're a child in the middle of a terrible divorce; we overhear daddy and mommy's side of the arguments, don't have any say in the resolution and are firmly handed a final verdict. The transfixing experience is the anticipation of what we believe should happen; for justice to be served, a rainbow to cascade over the ****storm, and life to end unhappily ever after. Similar to my reading experience, I am enamored by the book but not entirely in love with it. Gone Girl goes far to adapt this deeply layered concept about swapped gender roles, societal norms, and media culture. In the specific case of Amy Dunne, it's good as it could've been but also could've gone further.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Gone Girl? What are your thoughts?

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