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Awards Season 2015-16 Scoreboard

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Jan 14, 2015

Review: GONE GIRL (2014)


Cast:
            Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Patrick Fugit, Casey Wilson, Missi Pyle, Sela Ward, Emily Ratajkowski, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Lisa Banes, David Clennon, Scoot McNairy, Boyd Holbrook, Lola Kirke, Cyd Strittmatter and Leonard Kelly-Young

Director:
                    David Fincher


Review:
                  I couldn't wait for the film version of Gone Girl and for David Fincher to breathe life into the characters and their dynamics immediately after I finished reading the book. Gillian Flynn wrote one heck of a twisted study where she deconstructed so many notions, brought forth an immensely fascinating character who was so wrong and oh so right at the same time. A dark but witty, satirical but chilling novel, a mystery but also commentary. It was oh so right about all the wrong things that have become a very part of our basic daily existence. What really fascinated me about the book was how much in-tune it was with the characters and their perception of the world around them. Their respective descend from a happily married couple into miserably co-existing creatures was so elaborately thought of despite the unreliability of the narrative which the reader finds out eventually. It was as if Flynn personally knew these characters and had their every thought and every moment carefully studied. As readers, we were not only familiarized with the changes that inevitably gave birth to the toxicity between Nick and Amy Dunne but also as individuals, how every turn changed them as human beings. The film version, which I did anticipate in the hands of Mr. Fincher would be a more dark and pulpy thriller than a satirical study of sorts, ended up disappointing me slightly due to the nature in which it advanced the many plot turns. Keep in mind that I always expect a film adaptation to be its own thing considering how cinema savvy I am rather than faithfully following its original material. Literature and cinema are two very different mediums with their own particular universes. My problems were exclusively with the film in regards to how the character of Amy was focused on as well as how so many crucial portions of the book were completely wiped off which effected my experience. It is very understandable that not everything can or will be included in a film adaptation but that very thing sometimes hurt the outcome.



                  Gone Girl is a thriller directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn herself. What begins as a missing girl mystery, a procedural drama turns into a whole new level of messed up in the second half. Nick Dunne (Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Pike) were both active writers in New York City when they married each other. They both lost their jobs during the recession and moved to Missouri. Crucial details like these are revealed in the flashbacks. The day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick is in his bar (called "The Bar") with his sister Margo "Go" Dunne (Coon) who looks after it. He receives a call from his neighbor and upon returning, he finds the front door open and the cat outside. Inside the house, Amy is missing and their coffee table flipped. Police is informed, the house is checked, Amy's family is contacted, Nick is questioned. Slowly and steadily, the clues starts turning in. Media is alerted and the story is closely followed by everybody. Why did Amy disappear? If it was a kidnapping, why hasn't anyone contacted yet with their demands? Is she even alive? Who is behind this? The husband surely, isn't it always the husband? The flashbacks indicates a fairytale meeting between two beautiful people who could understand each other. When they first met, something clicked. They fell in love and married. Life was going well until life actually knocked at their door. What happened to the once brightly lit couple? Nick sure seems to have a motive. Life and marriage was getting too much for him. Nick became distant and lazy, as a person and as a husband. The couple moved to Nick's parents house (wish they had expanded more on that in the film). Life was different in the midwest, it wasn't New York. Amy felt like she lost her once charming husband. Lost to others, lost to circumstances. She stopped feeling needed, Amy wasn't Nick's anymore and vice versa. They started arguing a lot, thus becoming the very tensed and flustered couples they would make fun of in the past. Nick would spend more time outside than with his wife and even in his house, he would be busy with himself. It is revealed in the film that Amy started to feel threatened by her husband, his behavioral changes became radically shifted. Amy was scared to the point that she wanted to purchase a gun for safety. What exactly happened?



                  The film much like the book shifts between timelines and perspectives. It slowly expands upon what happened or might have happened while Amy's disappearance is pondered upon. Nick's awkward and confused appearances in media and outside is interpreted as that of a cold-hearted sociopath. That is fueled mostly by Ellen Abbott (Pyle), a cable TV host who tries her best to link this case to that of hundreds of others where wives suffer through the hands of their unfaithful and violent husbands. Things get further complicated when it is revealed that Amy was pregnant, Nick denies having any idea about that. Nick and Amy had financial troubles as well, many periodic disputes. In the book, the first half despite what many would take very lightly in the hindsight is my favorite one. The close cross-examination of the marriage is such astutely done that despite its nature, it reveals so much about the people behind their personas. Nick's journal and Amy's diary are our guide through their life. Every important aspect in their marriage, every milestone is looked upon differently by both. The deceptive nature of it all at one side but its something no reader can deny that these different accounts hooks a person so badly. When the twist comes halfway into the book, you feel shocked, exhilarated as well as angered. Gone Girl begins exactly as it does in the book with Nick describing his wife, the shape of her head and his desire to understand her every thought. Nick is a strong character in the film, victimized slightly more here due to the fact that he is our prime focus. Amy's diary entries interrupts that timeline very few times. In the end, her motives which goes far deeper than the bad marriage and changed Nick, aren't focused or strongly developed. The incredibly written "Cool Girl" passage in the book is mixed up here with her 'planning', further reducing down her character into a delusional predator of sorts. That passage gave me goosebumps in the book, while it felt crazy-talk in the film. Many have accused Gone Girl of being misogynistic, I would have to agree with them. Sure that wasn't what they were going for but it ended up that way. Fueling the stereotypes would actually give rise to such accusations. The Amy in the book is so vivid, every word that she utters is piercing. She feels like a monster we created, a woman forcing us to reflect back. She is retaliating back at the world uninterested in the person she truly was. Amy in the book is a complex character, a feminist/anti-feminist culmination of everything that is wrong with this world and our behaviors towards women specially. The film for some reason strips away the incredible character that she is into just a crazy figure who is out to take revenge from her unfaithful husband. A one-note, no-complex, stereotypical female villain against (what ends being), a much more humane but flawed husband.



                  Gone Girl is dominantly about Nick, his perspective and objectives are focused mainly. Amy's childhood, growing up with the kind of parents she had, the Amazing Amy book series, privileged background and several other basic facts that forms the backbone of the person that she becomes aren't given much importance. I had to watch the film two times to make sure my problem with the film was not clouded by any pre-conceived notions. Despite the issues, Gone Girl is far from a bad film. It is not hard to see why it has become such a loved and enjoyed film, garnering critical acclaim and earing so much at the box office. One cannot deny its power, the sheer pleasure of watching an adult thriller imagined and delivered with cinematic strokes. Gone Girl subvert our expectations of being a film about a missing girl. It happens to be so much more than that. While the film tackles many things, the basic underlying notion here is that of difficulty in understanding the very person you spend so much time with. Our reluctance to really look at a person as they truly are. Our silly expectations and images that we build in our head. This is a product of the world and the way we are brought up. A person's life and achievements are judged purely by other's definition of them. We tell lies to each other and carry on with our lives expanding upon those very lies. In the film, our main protagonists always rely on their mind games of sorts. Easily entrapping one another with their manipulations. They challenge each other with elaborate schemes. Amy's disappearance exposes to the world what she has dreaded for a while. The image of a man who had it all, who was someone his wife loved for who he was but that changed. Amy becomes the monster Nick needed her to be. She was never going to be the kind of wife with hundreds of questions waiting for her husband every time he entered the house late at night, with no reply from the other side. She wasn't going to be the dutiful wife succumbing to her 'role', always standing by her husband no matter what. She had to knock some serious sense into Nick, which she does via series of highly improbable yet shocking steps. Assuming a different identity isn't hard for anyone but keeping up with it is. Gone Girl is a film that doesn't portray lives of the characters lived by but acted and played. As details are uncovered, these two protagonists/antagonists are further pushed by their own undoing. Amy for once works like nobody that you would know of outside the cinematic realms. Her mind, her tactical and deranged way of perceiving threats to her understanding of life brings out a maddening person inside of her.



                  Rosamund Pike in a role of a lifetime gives a truly stunning performance. Her character in the film has several stages portrayed. From the eyes of a husband, from her own, by herself and the 'deceptive Amy'. A sea of possibilities, endless ways to tackle. To express, to suppress, to fire back. Pike does it all with a joyousness and tremendous sense of awareness. Like Amy herself, Pike knows the nuances and the outlines of her character that is going to be shown in the film despite the messy nature. She plays the naive, crazy in love woman with sparkly eyes and a sweet smile on her face. The mentally and physically abused wife, the scared and vigilant woman. The Amy who would go very far, using her sexuality and gender, the conceptions and misconceptions to entrap. In the second half, Pike is a completely different beast. Gone Girl gets more messed up as it opens up the characters to reveal their true faces. Pike's Amy is somebody who can go further than you'll expect her to and at the same time, she can be exactly like you want her to be by her own acceptance. She is definitely a complex character, somebody you can't understand fully but her actions as horrible and horribly overt as they are, the underlying two-natured truth is palpable. A hero and an anti-hero, a wronged woman and a psychopath. The line is muddled, it isn't clear. Fincher never decides anything for us in the film, he tries to test our own understanding of everything that these characters does or how they are. Pike is one of the main reason this film is such a fun ride, nobody could have played her like she has. Amy is a woman who uses her mind as a tool rather than her body. She subvert the expectations and crosses limitations like no ordinary anti-hero. A breakthrough performance by an actress who was always there but never truly given this kind of compelling material to work with. Whatever my gripes are, Pike really plays Amy like I imagined her to. Her voice smoothly working its way over our senses, sensual and soothing. Gone Girl is filled with female characters. There is Carrie Coon who plays Nick's sister. Another performance by an actress we never really noticed before. Coon's Go is a loyal and friendly sister, who jokes with her brother like no sister would in the traditional sense. But they know each other very well. Or not! Go's discovery of who her brother really is at every turn is beautifully played by Coon. She is more effected by Nick's actions than anybody else. Coon's portrayal is a delight to watch. Her dialogue delivery is so spot on, she utters every word like a fired bullet. Clarity and sensible immersion into the role that has been imagined. There is also Kim Dickens in an understated performance as Detective Rhonda Boney. Dickens' portrayal matches the Detective Rhonda Boney that we have read about. In fact her accent and delivery of dialogues is exactly as I imagined the character to have while reading the book. Overall a good ensemble of many female characters and actors.



                  And then there is Ben Affleck in a role that for one of the aspects of Nick's life seems tailor-made for him. Yes the media frenzy. Not only does he look the part but feels like it. We are all aware with his highs and lows, the idiotic handling of his image in the media and then his sudden rise as a respected filmmaker. Fincher really knew who he was looking for to play this part. Affleck's performance isn't groundbreaking, deep or strikingly shaded like Pike's of course but he does the best that he can. Nick is a role that is typical man-husband-cheater, who can't help but be himself while expecting the world to be okay with it because he feels that way. Tyler Perry as Nick's savior attorney Tanner Bolt surprises. The surprise being that Perry can actually act well under a competent filmmaker and with a good and intelligent part. Two things he neither seemed to have exhibited before nor had any interest of changing things as they are. Neil Patrick Harris's casting is something I didn't find very appealing. Coming to the technical aspects, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross once again composed a score that is a combination of many things. It is used so well in the film to express and increase the anxiety. The noises that feels subtle and calming at one point slowly turns into unbearably unnerving. The score amplifies during many important moments, one being just before the second act kicks in with Nick discovering several gifts he apparently bought on his credit card. Or during THE moment that nobody that has seen the film can forget. The sudden shift into pure slasher territory that despite its visually graphic nature actually feels more disturbing because of the genius of the duo's electrifying work. It isn't nearly as masterful as "The Social Network" (hey, which aspect of this film is?) but a great score nonetheless. Gone Girl is also noticeable for its editing. I really liked the montage style of imaging over Amy's voiceover. Many examples of that, including the one I just mentioned above. A particular moment that I liked was when Amy confronts Nick and a heated argument ensues. The scene is important mostly for confirming our fears of this couple. As Nick is leaving, Amy follows him down the stairs demanding he talks back and doesn't let him leave. The high point is when Nick pushes Amy and as soon as that happens, the scene becomes a montage of images to the voiceover of Amy telling her story with the amplified score and the frightened face of Amy. It is a cool thing, the manipulation isn't only in the story but in how its been told. I had a problem with Kirk Baxter and his regular partner in crime's work (Baxter is alone this time) on previous Fincher flick. Ironically, they won their second Oscar for that. The editing here very much makes the film work more vividly despite the flaws. Technically a very playful and experimental opportunity that has been utilized well. Gone Girl's cinematography is another appreciable feature that plays with textures and colors at every turn. Beautifully lit indoors with an uncomfortable darkness creeping all over them. It is brooding in nature and not much different from Fincher's usual visual sensibilities.



                  It is surprising even for me to find so many likable things in a film and yet be disappointed. That nagging feeling that something just wasn't done right. Things were lost in translation. Or is it just me? Gone Girl the film is more of a plain thriller than the book. Maybe that is why the impact is much lower? Simplifying an element and thus diluting everything else along. Nonetheless this film is great entertainment. It features a great character playing with and along the world. She is a fascinating creation but denied much of the boldness and striking resonance that she carries in Gillian Flynn's book. The nature of events in the film sure feel a bit too much in the hindsight. The film's attempt to discuss the role of media and internet in our lives is clever. How news catches fire so easily these days and public gives instant verdicts on so many serious issues. We are all caught in a hurry, everybody just want to skip to the next step. The humor in this film is sometimes quite darkly amusing but it isn't given more room to breathe. It slightly veers towards the awkward territory. Cynical, calculated and broadly conceived suspense thriller. A central strong performance over problematic treatment of the character as well as the material. David Fincher still managed to pull it off somehow. I will give him some applause but this isn't a film that I would be thinking about in the near future. Instead I'll read the book and be forever lost in the entangled web that is Gone Girl.

Grade: B-