08 October 2014

Fincher's "Amazing" Streak Continues...

"Gone Girl"     ★★★★

A Review by Kevin Powers

In his latest masterpiece, David Fincher (2010’s “The Social Network”, 2011’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), that maniacal mastermind of American noir, found himself working alongside author Gillian Flynn in adapting her 2012 novel, “Gone Girl”, for the movies. It is, before I go any further, one of best thrillers I’ve seen ever and one of the best movies of the year.

I will attempt to discuss this twisty, darkly comic tale of a marriage gone wrong lightly, without spoilers. To do otherwise would be a travesty.

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, a Missouri bar-owner, who, on his fifth wedding anniversary, finds his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), missing with a suspicion of foul play. What ensues is a media circus straight out of the Nancy Grace playbook.

We learn of their relationship through flashback as the pages of Amy’s diary turn. We hear her voiceover. They were once madly in love New Yorkers (both magazine writers), kissing in sugar storms, living the high life. She, a wealthy city girl and model for a series of children’s books written by her parents. The “Amazing Amy” stories. He, a small-town boy making good in the big city. When they both lose their jobs to the recession and Nick’s mother falls ill with cancer, it is decided that they will move back to Missouri. The first step in their already crumbling relationship.

As the back story plays out, Fincher and his regular editor (Kirk Baxter), cut in the present seamlessly. Amy is gone. And we watch Nick stumble horribly through the spotlight. News reporters everywhere, the town people holding vigils, setting up searches and neighborhood watches, suspicious detectives (Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit) hot on his trail. Is he smiling too much? Does he seem happy she’s gone? What was she like? Did she have any friends? Does he have an alibi? Did he kill her?

That’s the first act, in a nutshell. The layers of this story impossible to recap. I can go no further with my summary.

“Gone Girl” is one of the most faithful book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen. The story, in three acts (and running at two-and-a-half hours), is almost fully intact. Gillian Flynn has said that she hoped Fincher would adapt it the whole time she was writing it. It is perfect for him.

He is a well-known procedural director, notorious for putting actors through sometimes upwards of a hundred takes of the same scene. His movies are all about games, hunts, detection, procedures. He has a distinct, dark visual style that can be seen through all of the movies he’s made over the last 20 years. 

In the last five, director David Fincher (best known early-on for 1995’s “Seven” and 1999’s “Fight Club”) has assembled a crack team. Most notable is his collaboration with Nine Inch Nails front man, Trent Reznor and his composing partner, Atticus Ross. The music is haunting, matching the work of cinematographer, Jeff Cronenworth perfectly. The shots are all steady, smooth, bereft of light and bright colors. You literally can’t take your eyes off of his movies. Dare to try, and you will most likely miss something.

Ben Affleck has never been better as an actor. His knack for seeming distant and secretive works perfectly here. He continues to shine in moody roles like this one and in Terrence Malick’s last film, “To the Wonder” (2012), another one about a dissolving marriage. Rosamund Pike will undoubtedly win an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. She oozes appeal of many kinds, and her performance as “Amazing Amy” is every bit as smart and sinister as Flynn set her out to be.

The supporting work from Tyler Perry (yes, that one), Kim Dickens (HBO’s “Treme”), Carrie Coon (HBO’s “The Leftovers”) and Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser, MD”) is all top-notch as well.

“Gone Girl” is the first truly great movie I’ve seen this year. When you arrive at the end, all you can do it sit there and let it wash over you trying to piece it all back together. I felt nervous watching this movie, tense, despite knowing the entire plot going in. That’s how I know I’m seeing an amazing thriller. It’s not only the story drawing you in. It’s a born director forcing you to gaze into a screen uncontrollably. 

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