Gone Girl

gone+girl+trailer

DIR: David Fincher   WRI: by Gillian Flynn  PRO: Arnon Milchan, Reese Witherspoon, Cean Chaffin, Joshua Donen  CAST: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry,Patrick Fugit

The sense that David Fincher has a lot of ground to cover is clear from the outset as the zippy credits blink by. Somewhat lost within their muted brevity is the fact that the bestselling source novel by Gillian Flynn was optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company.

Odd then that the lead role of missing wife Amy Dunne was entrusted to Rosamund Pike rather than its superstar producer. On paper, it’s well within Witherspoon’s wheelhouse.  Amy is an all-American sweetheart who deliberately conceals a vat of contradictory behaviour and emotion beneath a placid veneer. As written, Amy is an enigmatic, inscrutable, seemingly fragile figure. It’s a stand-out part and frankly, Pike has been given the role of a lifetime out of the blue.

Her character begins off-screen as her husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns to their palatial McMansion to what looks like the aftermath of a home invasion. The actual incident is rather low key but insidiously disturbing. Especially when Amy appears to have disappeared. As days slip by, Nick slips into a mounting vortex of media and police suspicion. Nick isn’t the most emotive guy in the world and his taciturn nature isn’t synching up with the wider world’s vision of a worried husband. Sadly for Nick, anyone looking for problems within his superficially picture-perfect marriage can find them much more easily than his elusive wife.

Adding layers of confusion via regular revelations and flashbacks, the film shuttles back and forth between the giddy heights of the couple’s courting days while simultaneously chronicling the on-going cooling of ardour within the subsequent marriage.  At the point of Amy’s vanishing, all warmth and affection has drained from the relationship. Instead bitterness, resentment and according to one version of events, outbursts of domestic violence have begun to define a deeply unhappy union.

Even at this late hour, delving too deep into plot still threatens to ruin the enjoyment of those unfamiliar with the novel. Suffice to say, the film depicts the Dunnes’ crumbling alliance from both perspectives but it’s pretty evident from early on whom the (more) unreliable narrator is. Wisely, Affleck’s Nick is no angel. The nasty but deliciously dark notion that Nick is better off without his wife is floated early and often. The significant flaw in that mostly desirable scenario being that Nick could easily face the death penalty for killing his wife. The lingering lack of a body initially saves Nick from the chair but when new and damning evidence starts to surface with alarming regularity, Nick detects an element of intelligent design behind his nightmarish plight.

Naturally, Gone Girl is brilliant in places. This is Fincher after all. He doesn’t come out to play lightly and again credit must surely go to Reese Witherspoon for attaching him to material that could easily be unwieldy and wildly implausible. How she talked him into it in the wake of a rather cool reception for his last adaptation of a literary behemoth – namely The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – is intriguing.  I’m more enthralled by how he talked himself into this. Wrestling massively popular mammoth tomes into mainstream entertainment is starting to become his thing. And selfishly, I want more from him than that. That said, Gone Girl is four fifths a stunning film but the final fifth is deeply unsatisfying and can’t help but retrospectively tarnish what came before.

The problems surely emanate from the source material. Flynn’s adaptation of her own work is a dextrous, slick and skilful job across the board but the worlds of books and films share a universal truth – endings are a bitch. Great stories rarely have great endings. In that context, as an esteemed film buddy remarked to me recently – only obscenely successful books get to keep their utterly bonkers plots entirely intact. Daft developments within novels are seemingly sanctified by vast literary success. Reflect on that after you see this and ponder whether a novice or even a lauded screenwriter could get this ending past a studio boss as part of an original screenplay without being laughed out of the room.

Many observers contend that the film has ventured into satire by then but I don’t concur. After all, the actual story of this film can be distilled into a perfect Hollywood pitch. This is fundamentally an uneasy marriage of Sleeping with the Enemy and The War of the Roses.   Since Gone Girl is depicting an uneasy marriage, you might say that setting a drama in the shared area of that particular Venn diagram may be fitting but both older films knew exactly what they were – however flawed they were. Gone Girl deals with issues of identity but it has an identity crisis of its own. Worryingly the parallel for this film within Fincher’s own back catalogue starts to become The Game – the distant memory of the hollow machinations of that film start to invade as we are dragged deeper into an elongated coda.

I refuse to end on a downer. Don’t be put off by my enduring gripes about the ending. There is much to admire and value here. Fincher is on fine almost playful form. Adroitly articulating mostly internal anxieties with real cinematic flair. Precise yet never constrained. Meticulous but as humourous as he’s ever been.  Affleck will surely be a better actor and director after the Fincher experience. Whereas Pike’s improvement is immediate and obvious as she alternates impressively between a brittle survivor and an empowered avenger. Yet for me, the real treasures of the cast reside in the supporting female roles. Carrie Coon is excellent as Nick’s sparky yet snarky sister while Kim Dickens is a true delight as an investigating detective worthy of a film of her own. The quirk factor of the ensemble extends to comedy veterans Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris accepting atypical roles that they clearly relish.

The only audience demographic that should give this film a wide berth are even moderately unhappy couples. Any remotely strained relationships will probably not survive any post-film discussion after witnessing this raw autopsy of a modern marriage turned toxic. Fincher’s films have always kept people awake before and disturbed sleep patterns. Yet, the agent of malevolence has most often been external. Sowing the seed that the real evil is already inside the house, across the bed – that’s true horror. Maybe that’s how he talked himself into this. Maybe he’s right. Maybe.

James Phelan

16 (See IFCO for details)

148 minutes

Gone Girl  is released 3rd October 2014

Gone Girl  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: The Big Year

Birdwatching - a human illness that is not easily tweetable

DIR: David Frankel   WRI: Howard Franklin PRO: Curtis Hanson, Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller
ED: Mark Livolsi DOP: Lawrence Sher DES: Brent Thomas CAST: Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Rosamund Pike, Dianne Wiest, Anjelica Huston, Kevin Pollak

Films on niche topics are inherently difficult. Typically, it’s a case of either barraging the viewer with information on the topic and hoping they’ll find their way or they keep the facts to a minimum; only giving enough to service the story and forward the plot. It’s not a case of the topic being technical, or even interesting – it’s a case of making it relevant for the story. With The Big Year, the topic is birdwatching – or, to use the correct term, “birding”. The story follows three men who are attempting to document the largest collection of birds in a single year – known as a ‘Big Year’. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champion who has held the title, Steve Martin and Jack Black both attempting to topple him and take it for themselves. The story itself is basic, and for the most part, riven with clichés. With a niche topic, it usually works better if it acts as a side-note. In other words, the focus is on their obsession – it could be anything from stamp collecting to scientific endeavours. Here, unfortunately, the topic of ‘birding’ is pretty much front and centre. If you’ve little or no interest in nature and outdoor pursuits, this film doesn’t really help to persuade from your indifference. Indeed, it almost seems to scorn you for not doing so.

The three men traverse America and form friendships along the way. Steve Martin is an executive-type who is beginning his retirement, but is continually harassed by his underlings who need his guidance. Jack Black is a computer technician who’s harboured an ambition to compete in the Big Year, but for lack of funds has been unable to do so. Owen Wilson is a twice-married man whose current wife is attempting IVF, all while he is travelling in defence of his title. Throughout the film, however, it becomes immediately apparent that the actors didn’t sign on based upon the power and quality of the script, but rather the opportunity to work together. The dialogue is so clunky that it comes across as insincere. Overall, the screenplay looks like it could have potential. The competition is ultimately self-destructive for all involved and forces each man to face a hard reality in themselves and deal with it. The topic itself may seem absolutely bizarre, but the idea of an obsession ruling their lives to the point that they forgo career, family and normality is interesting. Here, however, it just comes across as mindlessly selfish. It doesn’t even bother to attempt to convey why it is they are driven to do what they do. It simply expects you to understand – you either get it or you don’t.

The direction and photography are quite decent, especially in the close-ups of the birds and in capturing the vividness of their plumage. One particular scene in a snowy wood is shot beautifully, and without the ham-fisted script, could have been something terrific. Instead, it’s a lost opportunity – like so many others in the film. The comedy, what little of it there is, is very much PG and safe. Steve Martin is capable of far better than this and it’s surprising that he didn’t exercise some sort of common sense and steer clear of this. Jack Black and Owen Wilson, on the other hand, have churned out enough schlock-fests like this to know better, but still continue to do so. It doesn’t push boundaries; it doesn’t break taboos and is completely safe for all tastes. Which is what makes this film particularly boring.

Brian Lloyd

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)
 The Big Year is released on 2nd December 2011

The Big Year – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Johnny English Reborn

about as useless as a cat-flap in an elephant house

DIR: Oliver Parker • WRI: William Davies Hamish McColl • PRO: Tim Bevan, Chris Clark, Eric Fellner • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Guy Bensley • DES: Jim Clay • CAST: Rowan Atkinson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West, Gillian Anderson

Over the course of this movie, four different men get kicked in the groin. If genital punishment occurring en masse is your idea of a good time, then this may be the movie for you. But if, on the other hand, you happen to have an IQ above that of an average ball-point pen, then may be not.

Following on from the events of the insanely popular first instalment, Johnny English Reborn finds Rowan Atkinson in a self-imposed exile after a failed mission in Mozambique. However, MI7 need him back after they discover someone is trying to kill the Chinese Premier. His new boss (Gillian Anderson) introduces him to his new partner (Daniel Kaluuya), his new love interest (previous Bond girl Rosamund Pike) and then just like that, English is being suited up, gadgeted out and driving around in the new Aston Martin Rolls Royce, in sexy new locations (Hong Kong, the French Alps) to stop this new assassination attempt.

Credit must be given to Atkinson for being just as adept at the physical comedy now as he was fifteen years ago when the commercials this series is based on were being aired, and the rest of the cast, particularly The Wire’s Dominic West, are all game for a laugh. But the laughs never seem to arrive, unless you find lowest common denominators like beating up old ladies hilarious. When placed next to this, the Austin Powers movies seem like the height of intellectualism. If you’re dying to see a new entry in a moribund spy-spoofing franchise, you’d best wait for Dr Evil and co’s return next year.

Rory Cashin

Rated PG (see IFCO website for details)

Johnny English Reborn is released on 7th October 2011

Johnny English Reborn – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-kinERhAGY

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Barney’s Version

Barney's Version

DIR: Richard J Lewis • WRI: Michael Konyves • PRO: Robert Lantos • ED: Susan Shipton • CAST: Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Rosamund Pike

There’s been a lot of buzz about this movie: Paul Giamatti walked away with a Golden Globe for its titular role, as Barney Panofsky, a cigar-chomping television producer who does everything that any self-respecting, cigar-chomping television producer is supposed to do. Drinking? Check. Cigar-chomping? That’s already been covered. Womanising? Well, there is the small matter of three weddings. But wait, he can explain…

The story flits between present day Montreal and Rome and New York of the 1970s (the ageing effects achieved by Hair and Make-up are excellent and entirely plausible), allowing Barney to give his version of events, such as how he met the love of his life at his own wedding, for example, or became a suspect in his best friend’s disappearance.

There are some solid performances, notably from Rosamund Pike, who gives a subtly sympathetic performance as Miriam, Wife Number Three; while Paul Giamatti is wholly believable as Barney, who sheds the television producer cliché as the movie progresses and becomes a fully three dimensional, likeably-flawed character, although I did feel that some of the later, present day scenes could have done with some judicious editing.

The great strength of Barney’s Version, however, is that it balances an emotionally honest look at regret and mortality with irreverent farce (Dustin Hoffman has a few scene-stealing turns as Barney’s retired cop father, Issy Panofsky).

A touching comedy that manages to inject the indignity of ageing with plenty of laughs. And you’ll find yourself rooting for the rascal by the end.

Claire Coughlan

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
Barney’s Version
is released on 28th January 2011

Barney’s Version Official Website

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An Education

An Education

DIR: Lone Scherfig • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • DOP: John de Borman • ED: Barney Pilling • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike

An Education, funnily enough, presents the story of young schoolgirl Jennie (Carey Mulligan) and chronicles the events her whirlwind education on bridging the gap between childhood and adult life. The film is short, quaint, charming and, most importantly, affecting.

First off, director Lone Scherfig does an excellent job of setting the stage of early 1960s London. I think. Although I have no firsthand experience of this, the atmosphere is set by Jennie’s perpetual boredom with young life, and her eagerness for college, travel and other such worldly experiences. This aptly mirrors the blossoming of the sixties, and the slow transformation from ‘boring’ post war England. Or so I’d imagine. However, the additional references to emerging French Existentialism, social awkwardness regarding Jews (and the French, naturally), and C.S. Lewis help to set the scene delicately. Additionally, the almost militant drive of the female teachers in Jennie’s school to mould their pupils into successful independent women echoes the snowballing feminist thrust of this era nicely.

Perhaps the most significant culture shock of the whole film however, is the interest in and subsequent courtship of Jennie by the charming, businesslike, and altogether very VERY British, David (played by the American Peter Sarsgaard). It is obvious the man could easily be more than twice the sixteen-year-old’s age, and a modern mind instinctively suspects him to be a pervert. However, as this is the early 1960s, I forcibly remind myself that relationships like this were not uncommon. Never the less, for the entire film it is hard to shake the feeling that the man is depraved. Curiously, I admire this trait, as the uneasiness challenges some values of both the sixties and the current decade.

Regarding the pacing, it is not the most exciting film in the world, though it never claims to be. The tempo is steady, with no major peaks or troughs, but with a general acceleration of intrigue, chronicling Jennie’s background, her encounters, her choices, her mistakes and eventually her attempts to rectify them.

As this is not the most sensually arresting film, one would expect the dialogue and character interactions to impress. As expected, they are the film’s strong suit. Each character, despite being VERY British, is distinct and unique, and the fluidity of dialogue between individuals is very realistic. For example, Jennie initially struck dumb on her first few outings with David, is conversely impeccably quick and snappy with her father, which is believable, considering she has sixteen years experience at it.

An Education is such an insulated story that it is difficult to review without giving too much away. However, by the film’s conclusion, there are satisfactory answers to the questions asked therein. With a title like An Education, it doesn’t take a genius to guess the film may occasionally ponder on the merits of having an education. The film comprehensively confirms that although a school is not the only place to receive it, an education is necessary for the transition from childhood in to adult life. A difficult point to fault.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 15a (see IFCO website for details)
An Education
is released on 30th Oct 2009
An Education – Official Website

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