REVIEW: Gone Girl

17 11 2014

The gender politic has never been so fun or fierce to observe as it manifests in “Gone Girl,” David Fincher’s wickedly delectable adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel.  His eye for detail and intuition for the dark impulses that drive human behavior is a fitting, if not immediately obvious, match for her understanding of the roles available for men and women to assume or subvert in society today.

Together, they perform quite an incisive autopsy of the modern marriage which is every bit as confrontational as it is challenging.  The devilish duo might only be topped ingenuity by Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), the crazy couple they breathe into cinematic existence.  In their own distinct ways, they will lie, manipulate, and forge as necessary to get what they want out of the other.

Games that couples play have traditionally been a rich territory to mine for drama, but perhaps only “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” has dared to look this deep into the dark heart of nuptial discontent.  With their marriage plainly turned acrid, Nick finds himself at the center of suspicion when his wife mysteriously and rather suspiciously disappears.  The fact that Amy’s parents turned her life into inspiration for a best-selling children’s book series brings in a mob of overeager television personalities – led by a not-so-thinly veiled Nancy Grace surrogate (Missy Pyle) – going for his jugular.  It’s a trial by media, held in a writer’s room rather than a jury’s deliberation room.

Fincher does slightly overplay his hand in the first act of the film, all too clearly elucidating the unspoken implications and bringing to the forefront Flynn’s undertones of regional differences between Nick’s midwest community and Amy’s elite northeast upbringing.  Through Patrick Fugit’s assisting police officer on the case, whose face Fincher often cuts to after a plot development, the intended feelings for the audience get telegraphed a little too obviously.

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REVIEW: At Any Price

26 08 2013

If a movie makes you feel anger, it has to be effective on some level.  The ability to generate some kind of feeling in the viewer means the movie is communicating something right.

In the case of “At Any Price,” it’s easy to get angry because Ramin Bahrani’s script, co-written with Hallie Newton, is a well-plotted story that takes a look at flawed people on their worst behavior.  Though the film takes place in the American heartland, far away from the excesses of Wall Street, thematic similarities to films like “Margin Call” and “Arbitrage” make for a shocking testament to how just how pervasive a strain of reckless greed is running through our country.

Dennis Quaid’s Dean Ripple may deal with seeds rather than financial derivatives, but the ethical dilemmas he’s faced with at the farm differ remarkably little from the ones that must be dealt with at the stock market.  Dean can cheat and get ahead of his competitors, who seem to be beating him at every turn, or play an honest game for better or for worse.  He ultimately drags his son Henry into his moral mire, though not without plenty of Midwestern soap opera-style family conflict.

Bahrani’s allegory is quite clever, but it’s a bit overloaded and overwrought.  It never ceases to amaze me how subtlety always seems in such scant quantities in film, and Bahrani’s heavy-handed direction manages to essentially cancel out the nuances of the script.  “At Any Price” did manage to make me feel emotionally empty as justice remains miscarried, but at what cost?  For Bahrani, that pit in my stomach came at the expense of the story’s quiet power.  B-2stars