REVIEW: “Gone Girl”

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There are a number of popular modern filmmakers who are beloved by their devoted fans. Interestingly enough, I often find myself a little more mixed when it comes to these directors. David Fincher is a good example. I didn’t like two of his more popular films “Fight Club” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. But I’ve found that Fincher has made more good films that I have appreciated such as “Se7en”, “Zodiac”, and “The Social Network”. His latest film is “Gone Girl” and it can definitely be grouped in with Fincher’s better projects.

Fincher is no stranger to dark and uncomfortable subject matter. It’s a trait of many of his films that sometimes works but other times turns me off. “Gone Girl” has a bit of both, but for the most part the dark material is very effective. It feels like about three movies put into one and the film ends in a very different place than where it began. I can’t honestly say I found each ‘segment’ of the film to be equally compelling, but I can say the movie never flattens.

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The story begins on the day of Nick and Amy Dunne’s 5th wedding anniversary. Nick (Ben Affleck) returns to his Missouri home to find Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. Signs indicate a struggle and soon Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is leading the investigation. Amy’s disappearance attracts a media frenzy and people become obsessed with the never ending cycle of news about the case. As Detective Boney digs deeper she uncovers inconsistencies and holes in Nick’s story. This combined with the media hype ends up making Nick a key person of interest.

To go into any further detail would be doing a huge disservice to the movie. It’s based on Gillian Flynn’s popular 2012 novel so many people will know how it plays out. But lets just say that the narrative takes a significant shift in the second act and an even bigger one in the final act. As I mentioned above these shifts never flatten the film. It maintains its intensity and intrigue throughout. But I do think the movie starts off incredibly strong only to slowly and slightly step away from what I enjoyed most about it. It’s not that the ending isn’t satisfying. In fact I like the way it ended quite a bit. It just seemed like the story strayed a bit in getting there.

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But I don’t want to cut this film short because it does so many things well. Fincher employs a fractured style of storytelling similar to several of his past films. Carefully crafted and well placed flashbacks are sprinkled in to give us nuggets of information about Amy’s disappearance. But to make things more complicated the audience is frequently fed small bits of unreliable information. Misdirections and red herrings conflict with the truth and muddy any insight into what actually happened. I loved that. I found myself hanging on every exchange and flashback trying to determine fact from fiction.

“Gone Girl” also dabbles in a number of different themes, some more intriguing than others. One such theme is economic hardship and particularly its effects on a marriage. In fact “Gone Girl” seems to project a very cynical view of marriage as a whole. It seems to be constantly nipping at the concept of a happy and stable marriage. Or is it indicting us for our self-centeredness which often destroys marriages? Perhaps its most effective examination is of the media and the sensationalism that seems to follow these events. Tabloid journalism and the predatory tactics of reporters play key roles in the film. And Nick is shown how to use and manipulate the media and their willingness to exaggerate or stretch facts.

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And then you have the performances. I like Ben Affleck even though I understand some of the criticisms thrown his way. He is often dry and seemingly emotionless. But I find that his acting style often fits the characters he is portraying. That’s definitely the case in “Gone Girl”. Affleck offers the right tone and demeanor and he constantly has us trying to figure him out. But the real star is Rosamund Pike. She is an actress that I have always loved and have wanted to see get bigger roles. Hopefully this will be the performance that finally gets her the attention she deserves.

“Gone Girl” has many of the signature trademarks of a David Fincher film. The visual presentation is moody and comfortless yet perfectly appropriate. The music from Fincher favorites Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor creates atmospheres of tension. Also the film sometimes turns me off by pushing its desired edginess a little too far. All of these things scream Fincher. But where some of his other films in the past squander their potential “Gone Girl” capitalizes on it, at least for the most part.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

 

REVIEW: “Alex Cross”

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“Alex Cross” is Tyler Perry’s attempt at starring in a serious movie outside of his normal comfort zone. Now you won’t see him running around in drag sporting his familiar Madea getup, but there are times in “Alex Cross” where that might have made things more interesting. Now to be fair, this movie is nowhere near as unbearable as I was anticipating and there are some pretty good moments. But in the end this is all to familiar material and the movie never does anything to set itself apart. In other words we’ve seen this all before.

Tyler Perry isn’t the first actor to portray Alex Cross, the lead character from James Patterson’s series of novels. Morgan Freeman took on the role in 1997 with “Kiss the Girls” and in 2001 with “Along Came a Spider”. Not only are these two films considerably different than this new vision, but the Alex Cross character undergoes a hefty transformation as well. He’s still a police detective and forensic psychologist but here he’s more open to mixing hand-to-hand combat and his sawed off shotgun to his Sherlock Holmesesque skills of deduction.

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Life is good for Alex. He has a beautiful wife, two lovely children, and one on the way. He’s also been offered a cushiony FBI desks job that pays a lot more money and would allow him to spend more time with his family. But isn’t it just like a sadistic serial killer to make things more complicated. Alex is called to a high-profile crime scene with his partner and lifelong friend Tommy (Edward Burns). They connect the murder to a man they call Picasso. He’s played by an almost emaciated Matthew Fox sporting a shaved head and noticeably fake tattoos. As with all of these movies, Alex and company set out to stop Picasso by picking through clues and getting to the next victim before the killer does. Like I said, it’s pretty familiar material.

“Alex Cross” runs the gamut from a crime drama to a revenge thriller. As the movie continues things get grislier to the point of seriously pushing the bounds of its PG-13 rating. Considering the movie does focus on a brutal serial killer and the hunt to find him, it’s not unreasonable to expect some rather gruesome content. But while “Alex Cross” does stretch the PG-13 rating, it seems shackled by it as well. I kept feeling as if the movie wanted to be darker, grimmer, and a bit more shocking than it was. I don’t think that would transform this into a great film but I can see where it would provide an edge that would help it overall.

But back to one of the bigger questions surrounding the movie. Was Tyler Perry able to pull this off? Let me just say that he was surprisingly adequate but nothing extraordinary or memorable. And while there were no egregious flaws in his performance, there are several times where he overplays a scene and other times where his stale line-reading is a distraction. It’s interesting that Idris Elba was initially cast for the part and I can’t help thinking he would be a better choice. But as for Perry, I was expecting a lot worse.

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Edward Burns probably gives the best performance of the movie even though some of the lines he’s given are pretty lame. And then there’s Matthew Fox. His performance is a tough one to peg. There are a few scenes, particularly when he’s wrestling with threatening dialogue, where he’s not that convincing. But overall I do think he pulls it off mainly because he sells ‘crazy’ pretty well through the combination of his unusual appearance and his moral apathy. But perhaps the most jarring performance comes from John McGinley as Alex Cross’ police captain. He’s terribly miscast and every line he says is ridiculously overdone. His performance stands out but for all the wrong reasons.

“Alex Cross” isn’t the worst movie out there. Its biggest problem is that is just not memorable enough to overcome its clear flaws. Most of the movie features too much that we’ve seen before and the ending feels like a cheap cop out. And while Tyler Perry may not have been the worst choice, I think it’s obvious he wasn’t the best choice. All of this contributes to “Alex Cross” being pretty forgetful. Some ingredients are there for what could’ve been a good movie. But the ingredients themselves don’t equal a fine dish. That’s certainly the case here.

VERDICT – 2 STARS