Tuesday, October 7, 2014

David Fincher Returns With Another Modern Masterpiece: Our Review of "Gone Girl" (2014)

Directed By: David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, Kim Dickens

Rating: R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexuality/nudity, and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 29 minutes

Synopsis: After discovering his wife Amy (Pike) missing on the morning of their 5th anniversary, Nick Dunne (Affleck) becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the police, media and the public. As Nick stumbles around trying to clear his name, it becomes clear that neither Nick nor Amy was being 100% truthful with each other, with devastating results.


Andrew: Hello dear readers! While Sarah and I were back in Michigan this past weekend for a wedding between two dear friends of ours, we were able to sneak in a visit to a local movie theatre with another dear friend of ours to catch David Fincher's latest film, Gone Girl. Now, this is a film that I personally had been anxiously waiting for as I'm a huge Fincher fan (even took a Fincher film class in college), and while we're a few days late with this review we think it'll be worth it because we've had many thoughts about this film percolating in our brains. So without further ado, let's get to it Sarah. 

Gone Girl is based on the hit 2012 novel of the same name written by Gillian Flynn, who also had the pleasure of adapting her own work for the film's screenplay. It stars Ben Affleck (Argo) as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike (The World's End) as his wife Amy, both of whom were once-successful writers in New York City that lost their jobs after the recession and moved to Missouri when Nick's mother was dying of cancer. On their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to his McMansion to discover a scene of struggle in the living room and Amy missing. What follows is an investigation into Amy's disappearance that takes many twists and turns, with a looming question over whether Nick killed his wife, and whether this married couple really knew each other at all.

Sarah: Right now is a good time to warn our readers that since it's been a number of days since the film came out and a couple of years since the book came out, we're going to discuss non-spoiler aspects of the film first and then touch on some spoiler territory at the end of the review. Don't worry, we'll give fair warning when that section is coming up.

A: Indeed we will. So Sarah, while we hadn't read the book prior to seeing the film, as I mentioned earlier this was one I was very much looking forward to and I know you were as well. Now that we've seen Gone Girl, what are your initial thoughts on it?

Sarah: I also am a Fincher fan. His works just have a great feel to them whether they are more along the fictional thriller line (Seven) or based on true events (The Social Network), they just all feel like they came from the same creative mind in the best possible way.  

And Gone Girl was no exception. The music, the scenery, just everything worked. The cast was stunning and the story kept you interested from the very beginning. A two-and-a-half hour movie that can keep the audience entertained for that long is a winner in any book. 

Ben Affleck keeps his hot streak going with a career-best performance in Gone Girl
as Nick Dunne, a husband who becomes the prime target in his wife's disappearance.

A: I'm pretty much in 100% agreement with you. I loved this movie. Absolutely loved it. From start to finish, and as you just mentioned, at a two-and-a-half hour run time, I didn't even notice the length. This one just flew by for me.

So let's start getting more specific, and let's start with the face that was most present in all of the film's marketing - Ben Affleck. His Nick Dunne is presented as an everyman who has fallen on relatively hard times (I say relatively because he and Amy do rent a McMansion). He's incredibly close to his twin sister Go (short for Margo and played by the very good Carrie Coon), he's got that Homecoming King look and charm about it, but at the same time he seems kind of...off...in regards to his reaction to his wife's disappearance, the investigation and the media storm surrounding it.

Personally I thought Affleck was fantastic, that this is the best acting job he's done in his career. What do you think?

S: I have to agree with you for the most part, but I thought he was equally as good in Argo. He definitely has a style of acting and it shone through in Gone Girl as well. And I don't think this is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think he has allowed himself to mature as an actor without losing the sense of who he is as that actor. 

Our friend Kayla, who went with us to the movie and had previously read the book, said that he was cast perfectly for the role. That's a pretty high compliment because she absolutely loved the book! And even though Affleck isn't a twin in real life, the relationship he had with Go was very convincing. I have to say, I have really been impressed with Affleck lately and I am so looking forward to seeing what he does next.

Fincher did well casting this whole movie. So that leads us to our next person, the amazing Rosamund Pike who plays Amy Elliot Dunne. This British darling has been making her way into more Hollywood films in the last several years and in this case has turned to the thrillers. I've loved her for a while and once again she didn't fail to disappoint. What did you think of her?

A: I think Pike is a revelation here. She truly is amazing here, if you catch my drift. I've only ever seen Pike in supporting roles in Die Another Day, The World's End and Pride & Prejudice, and in none of them did she really jump out at me. But here...she's perfect. Her American accent is spot-on, she looks like a porcelain doll, she's the perfect choice for this film. She really comes off as an All-American girl. I remember reading that Reese Witherspoon had originally optioned the book for her production company with an eye on starring as Amy herself, but when Fincher jumped aboard to direct he wanted Pike. And I just can't imagine anyone else in the role.

After those two, the supporting cast isn't far behind. Carrie Coon, as we've mentioned, is pretty great as Nick's twin sister, Margo. She has a tough part, as she's really put through the ringer alongside her brother. Coon does a great job. I enjoyed her work in this summer's HBO series The Leftovers and was pleasantly surprised to see she has such a meaty role in this film, too.

S: And let's not forget the revelation of Kim Dickens as the shrewd Detective Rhonda Boney. She was influential in The Blind Side as Michael Oher's science teacher and was given so much more to do in this film as the lead detective on the case. Don't be fooled by her southern drawl, she's determined to find out the truth in this movie and her piercing stare seems to cut right through her suspects. 

This movie is pretty stacked with the supporting cast. Besides the two we have mentioned, you also have Tyler Perry (Alex Cross) as defense attorney Tanner Bolt, Missi Pyle (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as gossip anchor Ellen Abbott and Sela Ward (CSI: New York) as broadcast journalist Sharon Schieber. Truly, a cast that is no stranger to the big screen. 

Carrie Coon and Tyler Perry each deliver great performances as part of Gone Girl's strong ensemble.

A: I'm glad you brought up Perry as Tanner Bolt and Pyle as Ellen Abbott. They're also pitch perfect for their roles. This is the best I've seen Perry in anything, as he's more of a very confident, cool, collected high-powered defense attorney instead of being manic or whatever. And Pyle does such a good...not impression, because that's not what it is, but a good take on the Nancy Grace kind of TV journalist/anchor. She's so biting and has one of the best exchanges in the whole film. The cast is top-notch.

Now before we wrap up the spoiler-free section of our review, let's quickly talk about Fincher's direction, the cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth, the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and the editing by Kirk Baxter.

First off, I've always loved how Fincher's films have looked. I like that he has a very distinct washed-out, neo-noir look this his films. And Cronenweth knocks it out of the park here just like he did in The Social Network, Fight Club and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The scene where Nick and Amy are walking through a storm of powdered sugar on the night they meet is perfect enough. 

S: Like I mentioned toward the beginning, the look of Fincher's films is what makes his work stand out in the crowd. They're gritty without being overdone, and tense when the audience is expecting something completely different. His films are creative, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. Gone Girl was no exception. 

I loved this movie. It made me uncomfortable and a little frightened, the way a good Fincher film does. He really has found the perfect recipe for unnerving his audience and I say, "Bravo, sir."

A: One of the aspects that made the movie quite unnerving for me was Reznor and Ross's score. It's very different than anything else I've heard before, and it's not cloying whatsoever. Instead it just simply enhances what's going on in the movie. I almost didn't realize it was there, and in this case that's a good thing.

Lastly I wanted to touch on two detail-driven things. One was the editing of the film. It helped make the movie flow so well, except the opening credits sequence. The opening credits were kind of jarring and there was just something off about them, like the shots were held one second too short. And I loved it. It got me right in the mood for the film because it made me uneasy.

And then I loved Fincher's attention to detail here. He's always been one of the most detail-oriented directors in the game, but little things like how Nick's front door was all smudgy because of the police dusting it for prints and then just leaving it that way afterwards was something I noticed. They very easily could've kept the door clean and no one would have noticed, but they took the effort to put that little detail in and I certainly noticed. That's great stuff that just enhances the world the story is taking place in.

S: That's so true. It was all of the little details that held the audience's rapt attention.

A: So before we delve into the spoilerish stuff, let's sort of wrap this up so some readers can choose to finish reading. Overalll thoughts on Gone Girl?

S: Stunning, brutal and visceral. This movie was all of that, brushed together by the imaginative Fincher. The story itself was well written but it took a master's hand to weave the intricacies together on the big screen with such an unexpectedly formidable cast. I was impressed. I left with a little bit of the heeby-jeebies and I think that was a success. 

A: I like the sound of that. Personally I think this is one of Fincher's best. I'm looking forward to us doing a ranking of his ten films, and I have a safe feeling that this will be in the top half. I'm not quite ready to say it tops some obvious films in his oeuvre, but it's worthy enough of being called one of the best films of the year. From a sheer cinematic standpoint - and by that I mean everything involved in making a film, to how the finished product looks and is received - I think it's the best film we've seen this year. It's early in the Oscar season, but I think Gone Girl could be one of the few left standing when all is said and done. I give it 5 out of 5. 

S: I'm going to give it a 5/5 also. 

A: Okay, now that we have gone through the basics, from here on out we say, very loudly: SPOILER ALERT!!! After the below picture of Rosamund Pike it gets real, so if you have no idea where the story actually goes, then turn away dear readers. 

Rosamund Pike plays the perfect human porcelain doll in Gone Girl. And we mean that in the best way possible.

S: So…. Amy Dunne is a CRAZY bitch. Yeah she's bat-shit crazy. And what's even more incredible?! I never saw it coming! 

Let's back up. So there is a massive twist in this story where you learn that Amy has staged her own kidnapping. Yes, she's the one that set the tussle stage in her living room. She's the one that dumped massive amounts of blood onto the kitchen floor and then poorly wiped it up. And all to get her husband arrested. Her cheating, whiny husband. Yes, people, the Dunnes are not who they appear to be. And it was brilliantly executed. 

A: And I'm gonna be honest: I kinda figured that Amy wasn't dead, because it just seemed like it would've been a waste to have Pike only in her diary flashback scenes. What I wasn't expecting was for Pike's Amy to be one of the craziest, most calculating, manipulative and mesmerizing villains in the history of film. And THIS is truly why Pike is so phenomenal here. She plays all the different shades of Amy soooooo well. At times you didn't know whether to love her or hate her. But I can tell you for damn sure that by the end of the film I was scared of her. 

S: I think the scary factor of her was the most impressive part of the whole movie. She could make the most innocuous things seem threatening. I'll never look at crêpes the same way again. Pike was a revelation, and Affleck played off of her brilliantly. Because he was no good guy either! Quite the opposite. You find yourself disliking both of the main characters more than you find yourself liking them. I never really liked either one during the whole movie, really. I pitied them at times and then they would do something so absolutely crazy to where I would think to myself, "Okay, these two can hold their own."

A: That's a fair point. Affleck's Nick isn't the greatest guy in the world, because he's cheating on his wife and was planning on asking for a divorce the morning of their anniversary. But what was so good is that the first half of the movie - much like the book, we're told - focuses on Nick in the present and flashing back to his and Amy's past through her perspective via her diary. When it turns out that Amy's diary is a fabrication she only recently created as part of her framing job, it becomes clear that both she and Nick are unreliable narrators. And this is by far one of the best examples of the unreliable narrator that I can think of. It was great.

Another thing I loved about Amy is that she's a femme fatale. We find out that she's been a psycho pretty much since her teenage years - accusing/framing an old boyfriend for rape being one notable example - and that while her frame job of Nick's "murder" of her would probably end with Nick being lethally injected, she changes her plans on the fly when stuff kind of falls apart and it results in her murdering another former boyfriend, played very well by Neil Patrick Harris, just to eventually get back to Nick. There's a lot going on, and I went along for the ride with a huge smile on my face.

As shown through numerous flashbacks via her diary, Amy shows herself to be the All-American "Cool Girl"
all the guys want, which ultimately is a facade masking the strong, albeit, lethal woman she really is.

S: I was pretty unnerved at times by how well Pike had the dead-eyed look in this movie. You think she is this go-lucky girl who has a terrible husband, but when you find out that they are both twisting the truth, it really causes the audience to squirm. Even make some inappropriate giggles in parts that are really more dark than funny. 

The murder scene...I was not prepared for it, but much like a train crash, there was no way to look away. If you didn't read the book you didn't really know what was coming, either! It could have gone a couple of different ways and then when the blood starts to fly, you're too stunned to realize what's actually happening. I know I was. That must have been how Patrick's character felt, too. 

A: I was not ready for it, either. I was completely shocked. And you know, Amy is a femme fatale right up there with Sharon Stone's Catherine Trammell in Basic Instinct. But she also reminded me of Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter in how she's so easily able to make people think what she wants them to. She's just such a great manipulator. And I think for her portrayal of Amy Dunne, Pike will be heavily involved in the Best Actress Oscar race. Even if she doesn't win, I think this is the kind of performance that people will remember for years to come.

Alright, the last thing I wanted to touch on with Amy: her "Cool Girl" monologue. Amy explains how "Cool Girls" like her pretend to like sports, eat hot dogs and burgers and drink beer, do all sorts of things to pretend to be this "cool girl" that guys will love, and she rhapsodizes about how they're all faking it. 

Apparently when the book came out, her monologue caused quite the stir, with lots of different sides arguing whether it was misogynistic or not. And while that's not what I truly want to get into here (my belief is that the Flynn, a female herself, intentionally did it to make some valid points but also to cause some discourse), I want to hear your thoughts on the scene in the movie itself. 

As Amy narrates and delivers this "Cool Girl" monologue, she's driving away, free from her dying marriage and she's throwing away the pens that she wrote the incriminating diary with. Along the way she passes numerous women on the highway and looks at them as she's driving, and it's kind of a gray area on whether she loathes these women or she admires them or is jealous of them. How did you take that whole scene?

S: So, I was a little stunned by the twist to actually understand what was going on. I think where they put it in the movie pushed it to the background of what was physically happening in the scenes. Unfortunately, that part was a little lost on me. Going back over it though does raise some interesting debates, and since this story is not that old, makes the relevance much more apparent. It's just another layer into the whole "Amy mindset" and continues to show the twisted nature that really is our heroine. 

A: Fair enough. Just another reason to watch it again someday then. Personally I thought it was Flynn and Fincher's way of making it a huge gray area; of allowing the audience to take from it what they wanted to. And I think that's genius, much like the rest of the movie.

FINAL VERDICT: A must-see in theatres!

(Individual Scores - S: 5/5  A: 5/5)

 Photo Courtesy: IMDb, 20th Century Fox

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