Friday, October 10, 2014

Gone Girl review (spoiler-free)

Note: I tried really hard to make this review spoiler-free, but there may a few little phrases here and there that give a little away. So, proceed with caution. And, for those who've seen the movie already, I'll be doing another, separate review filled with spoilers when I watch "Gone Girl" a 2nd time later this month. Carry on...

David Fincher's done a pretty good job of establishing his films right from the opening credits. Take a look at two of his most recent films for example: you had the black liquid oozing through keyboards (among other things) in "Dragon Tattoo" and who can forget "The Social Network" where we watch Mark Zuckerberg shuffle through Harvard University after getting dumped by his girlfriend. Both opening credits set the tone for what will follow and "Gone Girl" is no different. "Gone Girl" features quick cuts of a suburban neighborhood with the credits appearing and subsequently disappearing in a flash. Already, you know that something's not quite right. While it may seem like an ordinary view of a suburban town in midwestern America, the quick cuts suggest something quite unsettling is about to happen in this movie.

And it doesn't take us long to figure out what's wrong. Nick Dunne's wife, Amy, has gone missing. When he calls the police and they come over and see the house in near-perfect condition, they immediately have suspicions of their own. What's Nick hiding? Could he have killed his wife? Soon, Amy's parents are called into town and the media catches wind of the story. It's all over headline news. Nick can't escape the intense media scrutiny. The only solace he has is with his twin sister Go, but not even she can help him if the police put the handcuffs on him.

By now, you've probably heard a bunch of hubbub over this movie. If you have not read the novel, written by Gillian Flynn, I would suggest you keep it that way. Read the novel second, watch the movie first. How this story unfolds is so shocking to the uninitiated, I would need to write a completely separate essay in order to cover it all. Needless to say, the further we get into the belly of the beast, the more twists and turns we find. "Gone Girl," at one point, drastically switches from a police procedural to a pulpy, twisty, violent thriller. And you never really know what's about to happen next.

The believability of the first half is pretty much cast aside for the craziness of the second half. The reason why I was hooked from beginning to end is because of how masterfully crafted this film is. Like Fincher's last two films, it's incredibly slick, a well-oiled machine and its pacing is so on point, you'll hardly notice its 150-minute running time.

Much like "Dragon Tattoo," Fincher elevates the material. This whole thing could've easily fallen apart if it wasn't so brilliantly directed nor if it didn't have such a great cast. Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne is genius casting, flat out. He's so perfect for the role and while he doesn't get as many juicy scenes as Rosamund Pike, who plays Amy, he still manages to play Nick as enough of an asshole that keeps you from fully embracing and sympathizing with his character. And it becomes clear at a certain point, no matter how fractured their marriage became, Nick and Amy are most definitely perfect for each other.

Pike is a revelation. She plays Amy with a certain amount of iciness and unpredictability and showcases a remarkable amount of range for a role that requires so many different layers. This cast is filled to the brim with great actors aside from Affleck and Pike. You'll never look at Neil Patrick Harris the same way again, and Tyler Perry shows us just how great of an actor he can be when he's outside his comfort zone. You have Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit who play the detectives, and while they aren't given as much characterization, they certainly hold their own pretty well in their scenes with Affleck. Carrie Coon is also wonderful as Margo Dunne, Nick's twin sister.

But I gotta tell you, once the shit hits the fan in this movie, it's like a jolt through the system. I think that's why there've been such varying reactions to the movie as a whole. It's gotten mostly positive critical notices, but there are some very loud detractors as well. Ultimately, I don't think "Gone Girl" is quite good enough to be lauded as among Fincher's best. The craziness of the latter half of the film is entertaining as hell and it's a pure blast to watch, but it kind of takes the film down just a notch. As much as I tried to sit back and enjoy the ride, the tonal shift that occurs in the middle of the film was hard for me to swallow. As a result, I feel "Gone Girl" has two great halves of a movie, but as a whole? It's essentially a well-made B-movie. An extraordinarily well-made B-movie, granted, and I would love to fully embrace a B-movie that works on all cylinders, but it really feels like a tale of two movies instead of being one cohesive whole.

Consider this my spoiler-free review. There's so much more to talk about when it comes to this movie and hopefully I can find the time to really dissect the film. And who knows? Maybe a 2nd viewing would make me feel better about the whole tone shift thing. Nevertheless, ten films in, David Fincher is slowly becoming the Alfred Hitchcock of this generation. He has a style completely of his own and he explores themes that are much different than Hitchcock, but they both have the same twisted sense of humor. They both love to take on seemingly B-movie material and elevate it to something that's special. They both have an affinity for genre. Fincher will never have as extensive a filmography as Hitchcock does, but he's one of the few directors working today that even comes close to being on Hitchcock's level. Even though I would not rank this among Fincher's very best, I would not complain if he made movies like "Gone Girl" for the rest of his career.

Grade: B+

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