Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Gone Girl / **** (R)

Nick Dunne: Ben Affleck
Amy Dunne: Rosamund Pike
Margo Dunne: Carrie Coon
Detective Rhonda Boney: Kim Dickens
Desi Collings: Neil Patrick Harris
Tanner Bolt: Tyler Perry
Officer Jim Gilpin: Patrick Fugit

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by David Fincher. Written by Gillian Flynn, based on her novel. Running time: 149 min. Rated R (for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language).

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players. They have their exits and entrances, and one man in his time will play many parts…”
                                                —William Shakespeare, “As You Like It” Act II, sc vii.

What Shakespeare didn’t realize when he wrote those words was that he was at just the infancy of this thing called media, and that it would eventually play the biggest role in the world stage, not only playing its part but also appointing itself the world’s casting director, dolling out the roles for those men and women to play. Now, not everyone finds themselves in the media spotlight, but we chose our own roles to play in our lives and the lives of others. Once the media intervenes, those roles multiply on a scale relative to the scale upon which those lives play on the media’s stage. This is ultimately what David Fincher’s latest dark allegory “Gone Girl” is about, and despite the fact that there is a very frightening person orchestrating the events in this story, based on Gillian Flynn’s best selling novel, it is the role the media plays in these events that is most frightening.

The story follows an idyllic New York power couple, who meet, fall madly in love and live in perfection for a very short period of time before life starts to intervene. We meet him, Nick Dunne, on the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary. We meet his wife, Amy, through flashbacks where we learn that Nick was a successful writer and she is the inspiration for her parents’ popular children’s book character, Amazing Amy. Due to a family illness on Nick’s side, the couple has since moved back to his hometown in Missouri.

The reason we are introduced to Amy through flashbacks is because, after visiting his twin sister at the bar they run in the downtown district of their small town, Nick returns home to discover signs of a struggle and his wife missing. Detective Rhonda Boney keeps her thoughts close to her chest during the initial investigation of the crime scene, although there are reasons she’s quick to conclude that there has indeed been some foul play. Is it possible that Desi Collings, a former stalker of Amy who resides in St. Louis, has tracked her down again? Or is something more sinister at play? When it comes to light that Nick and Amy’s marriage had passed far below its idyllic beginnings, it is Nick who becomes suspect number one.

It’s probably no surprise that this is the type of movie I can say nothing more about in terms of plot. It is also safe to say that little is what it seems, both in the circumstances surrounding Amy’s disappearance and in the details that make up Nick and Amy’s life up to that point. It is the chess game that director David Fincher plays to reveal these secrets that makes the movie so intriguing, however. Some who’ve read the book have said that it would be pointless to see the movie knowing what happens. I hadn’t read the book before seeing the film, so I am unaware as to how closely it follows the book. I would very much like to see the movie again, however, in order to fully appreciate the ballet of emotions, lies and facts that Fincher shifts around continuously in order to manipulate the audience into feeling and guessing what he wants them to at every moment.

His greatest weapon on this front is exactly what is used on each and every one of us every day—the news media. He presents the 24-hour news cycle here as the biggest manipulator of our emotions and opinions, which it most likely is in similar cases we’ve witnessed over the past few years. Oscar Pistorius, Casey Anthony, even harkening back to O.J. Simpson, the media gives us an instant villain with Nick. Of course, the story is told from Nick’s point of view and for a good portion of time we see how he is the victim of this treatment. Eventually, however, it becomes evident that despite the fact that the media has made any search for the truth nearly impossible, Nick may very well have a much darker heart than he appears to at first. Fincher and Ben Affleck present so many different possible Nicks here that guilt is there for sure, but guilt towards which Amy from which Nick. Neither is the absolute victim they see themselves as.

Fincher achieves much of this multiple truths for multiple versions of his characters effect through casting alone. Before watching this film, I was thinking about how good Fincher has been at casting throughout his films. He saw that Rooney Mara was the only person who could possibly be a better fit as a Girl with a Dragon Tattoo than the perfectly cast Noomi Rapace in the original. Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo are possibly the only actors who could’ve embodied his triumvirate of looser heroes searching for the truth in “Zodiac”. And who besides Fincher knew Justin Timberlake could shine in a drama given the right role?

Here Fincher uses Affleck’s own rocky relationship with his own media image to create a character who could go either way for the audience. Affleck shone brightly early in his career, like Nick in his relationship. There were some dark years for a while for Ben. Today, as the news media and social media alternately praise him for his directorial efforts and beat him up just for being cast as Batman, we don’t know what to think of Affleck—a key to this film’s success. Rosamund Pike has also split her share of villainess roles and girls we’d like to marry. I was particularly impressed with Carrie Coon as Nick’s twin sister, whose work I was unfamiliar with before this. Kim Dickens has long been a favorite not so famous actor of mine, and she continues Fincher’s infatuation with strong women in powerful positions from his previous film with her portrayal of the lead investigator here. Even Tyler Perry surprisingly fits into the role of a Johnny Cochran type of high profile lawyer. Fincher uses Perry’s comedic experience to lighten the mood where it needs it.

In truth, the story here never reaches the world stage level, but rather merely a national one. However, the players—as the media assigns them—are all too familiar to all of us. We’re shocked by the gory details. We need an instant villain. We need a definitive victim. Each of the players involved are these things in their own minds, despite the fact that we all known the truth is rarely that simple. We may never learn the whole truth of anything that has occurred, but that truth exists for the players involved. And yet, we still eat it up as if we’re standing in the public section of the Globe Theatre watching one of the bard’s plays for the first time. It’s been said that Shakespeare, for all the respect he holds today, was often used as a PR tool for Queen Elizabeth in his time.

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