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|Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal.||MOBILE version ||
When self-absorbed perfect girl Amy (Rosamund Pike, "Pride and Prejudice") meets Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, "Argo") at a New York party, it's not just sparks that fly. The entire chemistry of the planet is altered. At last she's found a man who is worth proving her superiority and accomplishments to. Or, for. The poor stud... er, uh, guy... has more than met his match and it seems like the start of something that transcends glorious.
In the screenplay penned by global best-seller author Gillian Flynn and in the film directed by David Fincher ("The Social Network"), both principal characters have enjoyed the luxuries good writing jobs have provided: he a journalist laid off due to downsizing; she the subject of a series of "Amazing Amy" children's books penned by her parents and now, expecting the same level of adulation from her man, a diarist exhausting a trust fund.
The ensuing monetary bleakness causes Nick to have the couple leave their New York digs in favor of tiny North Carthage, Missouri, where his mother is dying of cancer. With Amy's trust fund money, they open a bar which Nick's twin sister Margo runs and which provides a modest but adequate income with which to pay the rent. This is augmented by Nick taking a teaching job. But, by this time, the promise of high expectations of permanent bliss have faded into disappointment, dissatisfaction and offsets.
Perhaps not unlike many a couple, the subject of old relationships comes up and Amy tells Nick about the affair she once had (before him) with super-rich Desi Collings (Neil Patrick Harris, "The Muppets") whose role in all this borders on parody.
While we don't get deep into what Nick is doing about the increasingly negative realities of the marriage, Amy's very busy writing thoughts and ideas into a diary -- writing we see often but won't necessarily understand until later. They are more than articulations of regrets and a mode of coping with her rage. More a set of clues in a plan of betrayal. Inventive to the core, she's planning something that should raise questions of sanity and is not the celebration of their fifth wedding anniversary.
Instead, on that day, she disappears, with the diary and other clues left behind to suggest something nefarious. Which, as far as cool Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens, "The Blind Side") is concerned, calls for a full investigation of the prime suspect, Nick, who is fully cooperative.
Though Boney's careful examination and reluctance to go with the obvious conclusion about the husband killing the wife, she shows her investigative class by reserving judgement until a dead body is found. Not so her partner, Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), who has no problem with a rush to judgement. Of course Mr. Dunne killed the beautiful missus.
He's not alone. False assumptions and foregone conclusions about the husband's guilt fly like fleas on a carcass.
Atop that, the police role; the extent of public condemnation inspired by loud headlines and media frenzy; Missi Pyle as scandal-mongering newscaster Ellen Abbot who, in the unrelenting style of journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell and ex-prosecutor Nancy Grace, fans the flame of outrage; the mulish public too ready to buy into the presumption of guilt -- all these thematic strains count for a big overwriting of this two-and-a-half hour romantic thriller based on the inordinately successful book that became a fixture on best-seller lists for months.
The casting is without fault, with Pike turning in the performance of her somewhat under-appreciated career. Where she goes with this, in the skin of a woman with wild mental disturbances that take startling and consequential physical form, will make anyone paying attention skip a heartbeat or two. Affleck, whose role choices have been less than stellar, has found in Nick the perfect outlet for his handsome charm, batterable confidence and shades of sincerity.
The production is faultless (with Reese Witherspoon a producer -- did she own rights because she wanted to play Amy?) with especially good beats in the harrowing moments by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo").
Through it all, Carrie Coon's twin sister Margo is another major presence as Nick's reliable conscience and supporter extraordinaire. But the actor who turns out my favorite of the piece is Dickens as Boney . Thwarting stereotypes of this familiar figure in crime dramas, the plodding detective, she exudes an authority figure with measured empathy, professionalism and understated personality and, yet, with reserved hardass potential. She may have created the only character I could respect and with whom I felt more than a superficial connection.
This film, with the exceptional commercial pedigree of its source material, is overwritten in all aspects -- presumably arising from being crafted for the screen by a novelist determined not to compromise her work for the sake of the medium. But, what do I know? For lots of reasons beyond my gap in involvement, "Gone Girl," the film, has Oscar buzz written all over it.