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.

 

 

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”—(A Piercing Performance)

It’s not necessary to have read the book to appreciate this movie and this compelling character, Lisbeth Salander.

The acting, the story and the story telling are good. But it is the title character that dominates this film. Her look, her attitude, her intelligence, her sexuality all combine to demand your attention when she is on screen. When she is not on screen, you wonder what her next scene will reveal.

Sure, most of the credit for the character goes to the novelist, but let’s stand up and applaud actress Rooney Mara for bringing life to Lisbeth. This character is a woman who has serious emotional baggage. She takes computer hacking to a new level. She has multiple piercings. She has a stoic, almost blank, disposition. She rides a fast motorcycle. She is a complex individual.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist in Sweden who is hired to solve a decades-old family mystery. Mikael himself has been the subject of a background check by Lisbeth. He is impressed that she knows “more about me than my best friends” and brings her aboard to help figure out what happened on that day in 1966 when 16-year-old Harriet vanished.

Christopher Plummer is the family patriarch who gives Mikael the job. Native Swede Stellan Skarsgard plays Harriet’s brother, a key figure in the story. As the pieces of the puzzle are put together, Mikael and Lisbeth learn about other family members and their sometimes peculiar back stories.

The movie has a grit and meanness that can be unnerving. Sex is one thing; violence is another. When the two are combined here, the brutality is disturbing. Be warned: a couple of the scenes are intense.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of a trilogy. Thanks to director David Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian for not leaving a cliffhanger to set up the second film. It’s not necessary, because the character of Lisbeth and the incredible performance by Rooney Mara that will bring you (and me) back for more in 2013.