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Thursday, October 2, 2014

REVIEW: Perception and Reality Collide in the Searingly Excellent Thriller, GONE GIRL

From the moment it was announced that David Fincher was going to tackle Gillian Flynn's Snapped-gone-wrong mystery novel GONE GIRL, the Internet erupted with a flurry of scattered opinions -- from those who were burned by his widely panned Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake to those protective of Flynn's source material. I admit, I belonged to the latter category.

But then, the trailers were unleashed and the already existing rhetoric escalated. In case you missed it, it went a little something like this: Where is Rosamund Pike's character in this story? Is she a lead in the film? Why are they marketing it virtually without her? Is this just supposed to be Ben Affleck's vehicle? Does he really need another starring role right now?

The story began to look rudimentary for some: Everyone can see that Affleck's character obviously killed his wife, and the film is just going to be a play-by-numbers thriller about a husband who murdered his innocent, beautiful wife and the police who investigate him. We already know what's going to happen! How basic.

How basic indeed. But do you really think Fincher would do a "basic" thriller? Everything about the film -- from its marketing down to the hyper meta dialogue -- is intentional, a deliberate play off personal and public supposition (however ironically). We want to believe that part jock, part charmer Ben Affeck would be the perfect guy to play the role of an accused killer who moonlights as a dumb, nice guy. As a result, we've convicted him -- and the film -- without so much as seeing more than ten minutes of it.

This serves as the basis of GONE GIRL. If Darren Aronofsky is the a master of visual perception, Fincher might be giving him a run for his money when it comes to supposition in dialogue and character nuances. The director perfectly sets up the scene of the all too-familiar grisly scene, ripped right from a CNN headline -- complete with the doe-eyed husband, peaceful suburban setting and hollow alibi. All we need is a compassionate neighbor/close friend and a Nancy Grace type to seal the deal. Oh wait, Flynn thought of that too.

So that leaves one vital piece (that isn't a spoiler), which is the sleazy criminal defense attorney who's just itching for a case like this, the ambulance chaser who's just waiting for his close-up, Mr. DeMille. That guy is played by Tyler Perry. Again, perception is key and -- dammit -- I was judging his casting. Hard. For what it's worth, he's serviceable in the role, but (I must prepare you who've read the book), his character is questionably altered in the film. He's eager, but not aggressive; opportunistic yet still empathetic for his client. Perry's portrayal of Tanner Bolt is a more reserved version of the character in the book. Not bad, just...not what I had hoped.

It's the one somewhat strange link in an otherwise flawless tale about a relationship that is plagued by the couple's separate battles with their ideal versus their true selves. So much so that they lose their self-identities (and each other) in the process. Flynn's story ultimately shows how people's perceptions of us affect who we see ourselves. Can we really understand who we are individually when our reputations are so specific and so convenient that trying to go against them is quickly deemed immoral? Bottom line: Who we're supposed to be is who we should be, and who we ultimately become. With just a lot of practice and a pasted on smile (or a single tear, if the mood calls for one).

Which, of course, provides another layer of ugliness to an already infested story. When you lose yourself in the process of becoming who you're supposed to be, you end up hating yourself and hating those around you. This brings us back to the doting wife and the accused husband. Can they really be the picture album perfect couple of five years, while wrapped in a bottomless battle of distorted identities? Just how far will they go to drop their affectations and remove themselves from their assigned identities?

GONE GIRL is a rather funhouse version of this fateful couple's relationship that teeters on depravity, desperation and bitter irony in its every step. Fueled by the stellar, complex performances from both Pike and Affleck (and supporting characters played by Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens), and Trent Reznor's creepily mounting score (perfectly in tuned with the film's most devilish scenes), the film will likely become a hot topic of debate among couples and singles alike. You may question whose point of view you're watching in any given scene, and whether it is your own that you''re bringing to the forefront.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the film, however, isn't so much where Flynn takes these ambiguous characters. It's that she's uncovering some of the ugly truths that lie beneath the surface of that perfect couple next door.

Rating: A (**** out of *****)

GONE GIRL is in theaters Friday.


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I loved this film. I didn't mind Perry in that role either, I wasn't even that upset about his role being cut down, because it is Perry, and he could've messed that up. I think this has been my favorite film of the year.

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