Gone Girl (2014)

★★★★★

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Gone Girl PosterDirector: David Fincher

Release Date: October 2nd, 2014 (UK); October 3rd, 2014 (US)

Genre: Drama; Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike

Somebody encourage Rosamund Pike to clear her schedule for early next year. By many accounts — relative superficiality considered — the awards rounds that take place in January and February can manifest as quite the gruelling undertaking, particularly for those nominated without much hope. I bet the endeavour is worth it though, all the glamming up and invariably rigorous speech preparation, when your name bellows around LA’s Dolby Theatre and that egregious Academy countdown begins.

Should she get there (and she should) Miss Pike will be an Oscar newbie come February 22nd. It’s early, granted, but the performance(s) she delivers in Gone Girl will take some beating. Gillian Flynn’s spotless adaptation of her own novel to screen might also take some beating. Heck, David Fincher may well find himself in another directorial gong joust. Gone Girl is not fun and games, just games. It’s downbeat and harsh and at times painfully glum. It’s intelligent and gripping and oddly satirical. It’s very, very good.

On his fifth wedding anniversary Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home to find a toppled table and smashed glass all over the floor, but not his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike). Upon subsequently reporting her missing, the bar owner plummets into a media frenzy fuelled by accusation, exoneration and consequence. Exactly what has happened to Amazing Amy?

Fincher refers to his back catalogue for inspiration, a method ultimately met with total vindication. Gone Girl refuses to settle on one genre platform and instead deftly mingles around a number of areas from which the director has previously thrived. The taut tension felt in Panic Room returns with a vengeance in tandem alongside Zodiac’s murky mystery. Much of what unfolds during the two and a half hour runtime does so in a mellow-ish manner; solemn, yet clawing away underneath the surface. We don’t really know what to believe or who to trust and Fincher works hard to emphasise that point. Historical diary entries penned by Amy are interspersed between the present, where husband Nick is battling the elements. Revelations come unstuck and we become part of the evolving saga, our minds constantly mobilising.

The director does this brilliantly, teasing us with character faults that we simply cannot ignore and that resultantly challenge our moral head space when nastiness arises. A coating of mystique, irrespective of its level, remains throughout all three acts — each of which vary in agency. What begins as a simmering thriller re-emerges as a social commentary on cultural norms, before climaxing in a fit of peculiarity and deceit. (Fincher himself has used the term “absurdist” to describe part of the story, and he is obviously spot on).

A lack of narrative jarring ought to be admired too, as each element works cohesively with the one before ensuring that there is no lull in proceedings. Don’t bring a watch, you won’t need to check the time. Perhaps the most interesting train of thought is the film’s exploration of a self-created image; this idea that we generate an idyllic version of ourselves to parade in front of others, when we’re in public. What happens, then, after five years of marriage? Script writer Gillian Flynn has an answer, and you get the sense that her adaptation to the big screen has come at an optimal time — the novel was only released in 2012, therefore the themes remain wholly tangible.

Another of those themes is one that seems to go hand in hand with personal façade: an exploration into the role of media. Specifically, media grossness. We watch the aftermath of Nick’s press conference where he outlines the brief details behind his wife’s disappearance, and the fallout is quite cruel. People become puppets via talk show hosts and public photographs and, to an extent, the film becomes less about finding Amy than it does Nick attempting to revitalise his own tarnished image. Ben Affleck paints Nick as a flounderer to a degree, but still as someone you’d fancy getting along with. The engulfing news storm is a usurping force of nature that strives to internalise the character’s prerogative, so much so that we doubt him relentlessly.

Navigating Rosamund Pike’s role as the eponymous gone girl is akin to traversing a recently laid mine field, and that is to the credit of Fincher and company. The actress is truly marvellous, a sentiment echoed in passing by Tyler Perry’s charismatic fixer Tanner Bolt: “Aww, she is good.” She is. Perry himself is one part of a diverse cast sustained by precision and efficiency, but it is the interaction between Affleck and Pike that engages most. Conversations between the pair relived through Amy’s diary entries are somewhat disoriented by a peculiar, haunting ambience. It is a haze struck up masterfully by the combined efforts of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and music men Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, all three well versed in Fincher lore. Cronenweth’s visual sheen resembles the pristine surface and texture of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, backed up by a disquieting score, relays a melancholic haze.

It’s worth pointing out the satirical infusion brought forth by the film’s final act, at a time when proceedings really begin to marshal around the absurd. Though we spend moments throughout the film tickled by characters’ comical reactions (an early police interrogation, for example) as proceedings start to unravel what might have seemed amusing an hour ago morphs into a manifestation of discomfort. Events on screen are obtusely elevated, of course, but at a base level there lurks a degree of potential reality.

Brought to fruition by a supremely talented cast also including the likes of Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon, and guided magnificently by a director whose work has finally struck an impenetrable balance, is a film not afraid to break the mould; one that defiantly stands beside the courage of its own convictions.

Evidence hardly ever amounts to clarity during Gone Girl, but Gone Girl most certainly is evidence that David Fincher is on the top of his game.

Gone Girl - Affleck

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

Alex Cross (2012)

Director: Rob Cohen

Release Date: October 19th, 2012 (US); November 30th, 2012 (UK)

Genre: Action; Crime; Mystery

Starring: Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox, Edward Burns

Idris Elba probably wouldn’t have been able to overcome the painfully generic plot or the less-than-enthusiastic dialogue here, but at least he would’ve added some degree of watchability as the lead. Initially cast as Detroit lieutenant Alex Cross, Elba inevitably dropped out and was replaced by Tyler Perry (perhaps Elba caught wind of the script). It’s not that the fairly unknown Perry doesn’t try, or even that Matthew Fox’s outlandish Derren Brown-lookalike villain is overly-wacky (at least he diverges slightly from the unequivocal pit of monotony). Rather, Alex Cross offers nothing we haven’t seen before, and nothing we haven’t seen done much, much better.

Alex Cross is a police lieutenant, psychologist, father, husband and soon-to-be FBI profiler (if he takes the job… he’s going to take the job, right?). Along with his partner Tommy (Edward Burns), Cross is assigned a case that involves tracking down a viscous hitman known only as Picasso (Matthew Fox), who is wanted for murder. Picasso’s objectives are murky at best — what is his definitive goal? Is he targeting Cross? Why is he cage fighting? — but Fox’s bizarre portrayal of the maniac skinhead is just about enough to divert attention in the early parts. However the road of attentiveness must reopen at some point, and when it does the villain’s nonsensical behaviour is exposed with shortcomings flailing all over the tarmac.

Maybe Picasso’s purpose did become clear towards the conclusion, but i cannot recall any explanation with confidence, and this indicates one of the glaring problems present: the film is incredibly unmemorable. Some particularly dreary outings are noted for their particular dreariness (take Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana, for instance) however Alex Cross fails to even fall into that category. If mild pepper eating was a contest, Alex Cross would represent the second mildest pepper on the menu — what’s the point in trying the pepper of penultimate blandness when there’s a mellower one there that’ll probably be even more tasteless and will leave your mouth drier, but hey, at least it’ll be a conversation starter the next time a friend asks about the least-hot pepper you’ve ever eaten (and that will happen). There is a distinct deficiency in direction, an inspiration inadequacy. The only characteristic prominent in abundance is mediocrity at its lacklustre worst.

To go in tandem with the vacuum of creativity on display is a collection of head-scratchingly obvious dialogue and a number of coincidences that would give Bilbo Baggins single-handedly slaying an army of orcs a run for its money in the ‘inability to suspend audience disbelief’ category. After spending a significant portion of the film looking for leads on the whereabouts of Picasso, Cross lets us know, “I’m just looking for leads”. At one point Cross and his team are trying their damnedest to convince hotel security that an important German businessman staying there is in danger due to a criminal at large, and then out of nowhere a criminal at large whose target is a German businessman appears. These are only two examples of a severe lack of urgency; urgency both away from the action/thriller norms, and in terms of effort put in by the creative minds.

The criminality unfortunately ceases from stopping there: tension is non-existent; some CGI effects are off (watch out for the flaming man); excessive camera-jerking during fight scenes makes it extremely difficult to follow the action; characters are either underused, underdeveloped or utterly unnecessary (the female prisoner at the beginning, what was that all about?). Perhaps the greatest crime of all is giving Giancarlo Esposito, who exhales charisma, a whimsical two-minute cameo… and it’s still probably the best part of the film.

No, the most entertaining aspect of the film is actually an external story attached to it, completely unrelated to the narrative piece itself: Alex Cross was shown on a number of United Airlines flights travelling around America, resulting in several passenger complaints due to its inappropriate placement on board and subsequent screening in the company of underage children. Director Rob Cohen, offering his sympathies and apologies to those involved, gave his two cents as he explained the PG-13 rating meant it should not be shown in general cabin areas. Trust me Rob, the non-child compatibility is far from why Alex Cross should not be shown on flights.

As scathing as this review is, and let’s be honest, nobody involved in Alex Cross will give this a glance never mind a care, I feel it is warranted given the filmmakers spent $35 million on its creation. Gareth Edwards shot his 2010 debut Monsters for less than $500,000, and it is a galaxy ahead of Rob Cohen’s output here. Edwards is currently directing Godzilla, arguably the most anticipated blockbuster set for release next summer. Cohen might be in the running for an Alex Cross sequel.

“This is over right?”

“No it ain’t Tommy, it ain’t over.”

I wish it was.