[Screen It]


(2014) (Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike) (R)

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The following review contains some spoilers about revelations and discoveries that occur in the film.
Dramatic Thriller: A professor must contend with the disappearance of his wife and allegations that he might have killed her.
OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
One of the worst things that can happen in a marriage is when one or both partners end up manipulating their significant other. Whether it's exchanging sexual access for something else, guilting the spouse into doing something, playing the pity card or pointing out inequalities in take-home pay, household chores or what have you, once such manipulation creeps its way into a marital relationship, it often causes irreversible damage to the union.

Yet, nearly all such relationships begin with manipulation. Many of the ladies wear makeup to alter their normal appearance, while lots of guys dress far nicer than they will months and years down the road. And both sides are nearly always on their best behavior while either not noticing or turning an accepting blind eye to behaviors and personality matters that often later become irritating, annoying or downright maddening.

At the very beginning of the film "Gone Girl" we immediately know something's really gone amiss in the marriage of Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). As we view the titled head and blonde locks of the latter, the former waxes, well, not exactly poetic, but about the perils of marriage and what the involved parties end up doing to each other. In this case, we quickly surmise it must be something quite bad because Affleck's character comments on thoughts of cracking her head open and having her brains unspool.

As Bette Davis famously said in "All About Eve," "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." And considering this dramatic thriller comes from the master of twisted and dark characters found within dark and twisted films -- that being David Fincher of "Se7en," "Fight Club" and Zodiac" fame -- it really shouldn't be a surprise. Like his last film, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Fincher has opted to bring another best-seller to the big screen, this time Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel.

Her story revolved around the matter of whether Nick has murdered Amy, and the author deployed the tried and true tactic of employing not one but two unreliable narrators to guide readers through the sordid tale of a marriage gone bad. She continues that ploy in this filmed adaption of her work where she was tapped to write the screenplay. While I haven't read the novel, if it's anything like this resultant film, it must be quite the page-turner.

And that's because while this movie clearly won't be for all viewers -- and certainly isn't suitable for kids except maybe the oldest of teenagers -- it's one of the best offerings of 2014, at least so far these nine-plus months into the year. With Fincher at the top of his storytelling powers and featuring spot-on casting -- including likely providing Pike ("Wrath of the Titans," "Jack Reacher") with the sort of big-time, talked about role that turned Sharon Stone into a star so many years ago in "Basic Instinct" -- the film is compelling from start to finish, with some nice twists and jaw-dropping moments to make it the sort of water cooler piece of conversation that Hollywood once excelled at, but has since all but handed over to popular TV series.

That's despite it possessing a technique I usually despise and often is a sign of a desperate filmmaker or one painfully try to ape noir style storytelling. I'm referring to voice-over narration that explains far too much in detail with an on-the-nose approach that leaves nothing to the imagination. While there's narration throughout -- coming from the lead actress voicing her character's diary entries as the film goes back in time before the pivotal event and then repeatedly jumps back and forth -- there's a pivotal turn of events that thankfully doesn't occur near the end, but instead pops up somewhere in the middle of the proceedings.

It's not entirely a shocker as most viewers will have feelings and predictions regarding the revelation, but it's explained in such intricate detail that's usually off-putting to yours truly. Yet, there's something about the way Fincher, Flynn and their cast pull off such scenes -- and the rest of the film -- that creates not only a bumpy ride for viewers not sure about how things will ultimately play out, but also an increasingly thrilling and utterly captivating one.

Beyond Affleck (who near perfectly plays an obvious cad, but one who nonetheless draws you into his situation) and Pike (who's simply stunning), Kim Dickens is excellent as the lead detective on the missing person's case; Carrie Coon is solid as Nick's judgmental yet caring sister; Neil Patrick Harris is good and offers some misdirection as the wife's ex-boyfriend from years past, and Tyler Perry (yes, you read that correctly) is surprisingly good as a hot-shot defense attorney who arrives to help the accused.

And keeping in line with the thematic element of manipulation, Fincher and company also do a bit of satire on the cable TV news fascination with sensationalizing stories that have unresolved matters and hanging onto them like some stubborn dog with its bone. While that could have backfired, just like the exposition-heavy narration, it works hand-in-hand with everything else all involved are trying to achieve. And that's a thriller where the unreliable character viewpoints and behavior near perfectly pull the viewer into this bumpy, thrilling and yes, highly manipulative yet uber-satisfying ride of marital misery. "Gone Girl" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 24, 2014 / Posted October 3, 2014

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