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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Gone Baby, Gone

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday October 2, 04:58 pm
Fincher’s latest is as entertaining as always, but unlikely to linger

Gone Girl

Cineplex

3.5/5

For the second consecutive film, director David Fincher — the most technically proficient filmmaker currently at work in Hollywood — has adapted a book-club-style novel. (The first was his American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.) Sure, there’s no one out there more capable of doing it right than Fincher, but still: perhaps he should be working with more challenging material?

Gone Girl the novel is an interesting page-turner (and it spent eight weeks at number one on the NY Times bestseller list for fiction), but there’s very little to be gained from a film adaptation, at least for anyone who’s read it. As much as Fincher plays the audience like a fiddle with the story’s many curveballs, Gone Girl the film doesn’t linger the way The Social Network, Zodiac and Fight Club did. It feels more like a director-for-hire kind of situation than a true passion project.

And now, a warning: there’s a mayor twist midway through the movie that totally reshapes it. I’ll stay clear of it, but traces may seep into the review.

Gone Girl is told from two separate perspectives: Nick (Ben Affleck), the husband, and Amy (Rosamund Pike), the missing wife. Nick’s story takes place in the present and follows the vanishing of Amy. Her disappearance is initially treated as a burglary gone bad, but some red flags (financial issues, the girlfriend on the side, his overall uneasiness) indicate Nick may have had something to do with it.

We meet Amy through flashbacks taken straight from her journal. The path from the early days of their romance, to their wedding and through the slow decline of their relationship follows a natural progression, although certain clues reveal a pair of egos too large for a healthy relationship. Neither Nick nor Amy’s depiction of their marriage rings entirely true, and soon the question is which one of them is the bigger liar.

Along with an outstanding performance from Pike, Fincher gets remarkable results out of actors not known for their flexibility. Affleck delivers a nuanced performance that keeps us guessing, Tyler Perry (who’s never been anybody’s idea of subtle) is surprisingly good as a celebrity lawyer, and Neil Patrick Harris plays his character with a welcome hint of menace.

Gone Girl operates on two levels. On the surface, it’s an intriguing mystery with two unreliable narrators, which makes the outcome fairly unpredictable. On the downside, author Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel for the screen, and she’s too in love with her words to simplify the clunky dialogue. Thankfully, Fincher treats the material with enough detachment to allow it to breathe, and even to be funny at times.

The deeper level at work here concerns the media’s treatment of suspects as de facto guilty parties based on flimsy circumstantial evidence — which is so five years ago. Sure, muckraking journalists deserve every bit of scorn they get, but Fincher has nothing new to say in this regard.

Ultimately, Gone Girl is trying to establish the fundamental insanity of relationships: Two individuals sublimating their own needs for the wellbeing of the other is not sustainable over time. It’s the audience’s decision to either disagree with that and view the movie as a disturbing thriller, or accept it and approach Gone Girl as if it’s the darkest of comedies.

 

Boyhood

Roxy

3/5

When it comes to the praise Boyhood has received so far, it sure feels like it must be the most substantial movie experience you can possibly have in theatres this year: 100/100 approval on Metacritic, for example, and 99 per cent positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Richard Linklater may actually score an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

I didn’t care for it.

Discounting the gimmick (the movie was shot over a 12-year period, with the same core cast), Boyhood is Linklater’s weakest film since A Scanner Darkly. The characters are — with one exception — uninteresting, the situations they have to deal with are ones we’ve seen a million times before, and the whole endeavour goes for far too long. But it’s impossible to disassociate the movie from the way it was made, and that feat alone elevates the outcome, no matter how unsatisfactory it is from a narrative perspective.

At the centre of Boyhood is Mason (Ellar Coltrane), an average, well-intentioned kid who we first see at age five, then watch grow up on screen to age 18. Through him we meet his family: harried mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette, never better), deadbeat dad Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke) and extroverted sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater, Richard’s daughter). Over time, each character must deal with their own demons, and the struggle shapes Mason’s perception of the world, love and self.

Boyhood’s cleverest trick is to show how the seeds of adult Mason are planted early in his childhood — the fact his dad decides to come around following an inauspicious beginning, for example, is decisive in his development. But more often than not Boyhood is as broad as a barn door (the cultural references are painfully obvious), just so the audience can notice the changes the family is going through.

The movie unfolds fluidly and the characters are remarkably consistent over the 12-year period, which is impressive. But if you’re anything other than a big fan of nostalgia, you’re in for a long evening.

 

The Two Faces of January

Roxy

3.5/5

There haven’t been many writers better than the late Patricia Highsmith at illustrating the dark nature of man — and a big reason why is that she invariably avoided dissecting her character’s psyches, instead letting their actions speak for themselves. It’s no surprise that cinematic masterpieces like Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley are based on her work.

The Two Faces of January doesn’t reach the heights of those two films, but it’s far from a failure.

At first glance, Chester and Collette McFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst) seem like an average, if well-off, American couple vacationing in Greece. Their path intersects with Rydel (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), a U.S. expat-slash-tour-guide who finds himself attracted to Collette.

But it turns out that the McFarlands are far from ordinary: Chester defrauded some dangerous people back in America and they want their money back, meaning Chester and Collette are on the run — with no one to rely on but Rydel, whose earnestness is at best a little suspicious.

It’s no spoiler to say the situation unravels, relationships deteriorate and decisions become ever-increasingly venal. Mortensen is technically the villain of the piece, but just like Tom Ripley, you can’t help but root for him in spite of his foibles. He’s the underdog, the old con man challenged by a younger, slicker version.

First-time director Hossein Amini (an Oscar nominee for his script for The Wings of the Dove) does a good job of building the characters, although he fails to ramp up the tension the same way Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Minghella did when they tackled Highsmith’s prose. (Fair enough: that’s a pretty tall order.)

But with the current absence of any truly great new thrillers, The Two Faces of January will do very nicely for fans of the genre.

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