Gone Girl

 

Gone Girl is one of the year’s best films. Unexpectedly strong performances from the leads Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are the centerpiece of the latest from consistently adept storyteller, director David Fincher.

Gillian Flynn adapted her own massively successful novel into a screenplay that reveals plot points gradually while giving shape and form to the complex personalities of Nick Dunne (Affleck) and his wife Amy (Pike).

Nick and Amy live in the river town of North Carthage, Missouri. (The film was shot on location in Cape Girardeau.) They moved from New York to Nick’s hometown to be with his mother as she faced breast cancer. Nick co-owns a bar in the town with his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon).

On their anniversary, Amy disappears. Police find clues—including signs of a struggle–in the couples’ home, but no body. Because the home is a crime scene, Nick moves in with Margo. As often happens when a wife disappears, speculation about the husband’s guilt spreads. In Gone Girl, it ignites discussion on a Nancy Grace type TV show.

As the investigation proceeds, detective Boney (Kim Dickens) plays by the book to build a case but her sidekick officer Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) is eager to arrest Nick. When public opinion turns against him, Nick brings in attorney Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) to advise him. Meanwhile, as the search continues, Amy’s old boyfriend Desi (Neil Patrick Harris) moves from the background to the foreground.

Among the supporting cast, Coon and Perry are strongest. Dickens delivers her dialogue in a truly authentic Southern accent. Harris is low key and coolly straightforward, almost distractingly so.

Apart from being a police procedural that causes a viewer to wonder about the outcome, Gone Girl paints a telling picture of a troubled marriage. Both husband and wife are shown to have character flaws. Their courtship and the early days of their marriage are shown via flashback. Amy’s diary entries, which she reads in voiceover, provide the audience with her takes on married life.

The soundtrack from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is genius. Early on, the sounds are ethereal, dreamily romantic. But as things get serious, the music turns darker.

Clearly, Fincher has not only assembled talented individuals on and off camera, but also has obtained supreme efforts from all involved. The result is an excellent movie which, despite its nearly 2-and-a-half hour run time, never drags. See it and be careful what you say afterward. No spoilers.

 

 

Argo

“Argo” is a home run. Ben Affleck confirms his talent as a storyteller with a film that has new relevance following recent anti-American turmoil in the Mideast.

Most Americans don’t know about the CIA operative who guided six U.S. Embassy employees out of Iran in early 1980. The mission was declassified in the 90’s and now the tale can be told, with dramatic embellishments. The embassy staffers had taken refuge in the Canadian ambassador’s residence during the siege that began the hostage crisis in 1979.

Ben Affleck is director and star of “Argo.” Look for a best director nomination for his excellent work with a compelling story and a strong cast.

“Argo” grabs attention from its opening frames. Following a brief prelude that gives an overview of Persian history, “Argo” presents a graphic recreation of the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

What distinguishes “Argo” from other rescue mission movies is the scheme employed to convince Iranian officials that the six Americans (and the CIA guy played by Affleck) are members of a Canadian film crew. A Hollywood makeup man (played by John Goodman) and a veteran producer (played by Alan Arkin) provide a legitimate cover story for the “crew.” Goodman and Arkin’s characters also provide vital comic relief.

Affleck, Goodman and Arkin sift through a pile of rejected movie scripts. From the many, one is chosen. Titled “Argo,” it gets the full Hollywood treatment: storyboards, posters, a media event, coverage in movie trade papers, etc. The Iranians buy it. The CIA guy gets into Iran. Getting the six others and himself out is the hard part.

The pacing of “Argo” is near perfect. Its narrative unfolds neatly, switching among settings in Iran, CIA HQ, the White House and Hollywood.

Our trip back to the beginning of the 80’s accurately shows long hair and sideburns on men, omnipresent smoking, 70’s cars and archival clips of TV news coverage of the hostage crisis. An answering machine similar to one I owned back in the day is an appropriate period prop.

Bryan Cranston is Affleck’s CIA boss. Kyle Chandler is almost a dead-ringer for former Carter administration Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan.

Some who post on message boards are distressed that the role Affleck plays was not given to a Hispanic actor, as the real life CIA operative was a Latino. Friends of the real life Canadian ambassador claim he was given less credit for his role in the mission by the filmmakers than he deserves. Others posters claim that the movie is little more than US propaganda to get the country ready for our upcoming war with Iran. Folks, it’s a movie. It’s based on a true story, but it’s a movie.

Hollywood likes movies about movie making, which means “Argo” could be a contender for best picture.

“Argo” is a “must see.” Those who can recall the awful feelings we felt in America during the hostage crisis will appreciate the fact that during that horrible period, our country managed to do at least one thing right.