Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Potential Films/Madman Films
It's not easy being the smartest person in the room, and even less so when you're only 10 years old. But T.S. Spivet isn't just weighed down by the size of his considerable brain; he's also burdened by grief at the loss of his twin brother, and the guilt that comes with feeling responsible for his sibling's death.
Heavy subject matter for what is essentially a children's film, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's adaptation of Reif Larsen's novel The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, is as brightly coloured and whimsical as his more recent films (Amelie (2001), A Very Long Engagement (2004), Micmacs (2009)) without ever talking down to its intended young audience.
T.S. (Kyle Catlett) lives in Montana with his rancher father (Callum Keith Rennie), entomologist mother (Helena Bonham Carter, refreshingly quirk-free), and big sister Gracie (Niamh Wilson), as well as the ghost -- metaphorical rather than literal -- of brother Layton (Jakob Davies), who died in a shooting accident in the barn which nobody talks about but which T.S., who was also in the barn that fateful day, can not forget. Nor forgive.
His mother has since retreated into her work (the study of bugs), while his father, already the silent, stoic archetype of a Montana rancher, is even more withdrawn: Layton was the apple of his father's eye and the hands-on round-the-farm yin to T.S.'s intellectual head-in-the-clouds yang.
It's when T.S. is selected to receive a prestigious prize from the Smithsonian Institute -- for his invention, sorry, his plans for the invention of a perpetual motion machine -- that he decides to abandon his family: perhaps his absence will allow his family to heal much faster? T.S. sneaks out in the early morn, hopping the rails cross-country to the nation's capital.
The American scenery is stunningly captured by Thomas Hardmeier's cinematography as T.S. journeys east, lending the landscapes a storybook palette which is further enhanced by the use of 3D, a first for a Jeunet film. And while the Frenchman's outsider view looks romantically at America's bountiful plains, he's a little less kind to that nation's obsession with fame, the dumbing down of science and dismissal of dreamers, and lax gun control.
This, and themes of grief and guilt, may concern some parents but it's the delivery of some f-bombs (thank you, Judy Davis, as the Smithsonian's duplicitous press secretary) in the film's third act which has no doubt seen the family-friendly The Young and Prodigious T.S Spivet slapped with an M-rating instead of a more appropriate PG.
Unlike T.S. himself, the parentals are best not to let their kids undergo this journey on their own, but they could do a lot worse than have them enjoy the company of a smart, sensitive young hero whose brain is his superpower and who discovers, like so many adventurers before him, that home is where the heart is.
Monday, 27 October 2014
Ten years before a bus christened Priscilla carried two drag queens and a transexual from the safety of inner Sydney into the Australian outback, another bus full of queers undertook a similarly potentially fraught journey: from London into the Welsh mining community of Onllwyn.
The year was 1984 and Britain's coal miners were on strike against the conservative Thatcher government's plans to close coal pits across the country. Recognising a similarly oppressed community, a band of gay and lesbian activists, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, decided to throw their small but passionate support behind the striking miners, raising funds and organising food drives. Strange bedfellows to be sure but then again, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, no?
That is the basis for Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus and penned by first-time screenwriter, Stephen Beresford; a none-too-subtle but wholly sincere retelling of those events which had almost been lost to the public consciousness. Indeed, many of the cast, and Beresford himself, have admitted in interviews that they'd never heard of LGSM and their involvement in those tumultuous events of 1984-85.
Led by young radical, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer, unrecognizable from last year's The Book Thief), and viewed through the eyes of the closeted Joe (George MacKay), who lives at home with his parents and, and aged 20, is still considered a minor in the eyes of the law when it comes to the homosexual act, we watch this band of idealistic misfits – including Jonathan (Dominic West), a middle-aged actor and one of the first people in Britain to be diagnosed with AIDS; and Steph (Faye Marsay), initially the only woman contributing the 'L' in LGSM) – rally in support of the strikers.
It's when they decide to take their fundraising directly to the source (the Unions refusing to accept the donations once they hear who it's from), that events take an unlikely turn. After first meeting in London with Dai ((Paddy Considine), a representative of the pit from the Welsh village of Onllwyn, the troop pack in to a small bus and head to Wales to accept the invitation of thanks extended by the Dulais Valley community centre.
But not everyone in this small, working class community is happy to welcome these outsiders, despised as much for being from London as they are for being 'homosexualists'. And while the local men, excepting Dai and club secretary Cliff (Bill Nighy, affecting in a rare subdued performance), keep their distance, it's the town's womenfolk – led by the headstrong Hefina (Imelda Staunton), the inquisitive Gwen (Menna Trussler), and young firebrand, Sian (Jessica Gunning) – who embrace their out-of-town supporters.
Of course, Rome wasn't built in a day and the relationship between the Onllwyn community and LGSM experiences many ups and downs (some factual, some as part of necessary dramatic license) over the course of their almost 12-month-long struggle. The London media gets wind of the oddball coupling, dubbing them 'Perverts for Pits', with LGSM embracing the term like so many derogatory names the gay movement has reclaimed before them (the miners not so much). There's also personal issues to be dealt with within each community.
The film itself tackles many issues – gay rights, worker's right, coming out, AIDS, female empowerment – some of it cliche and not all of it with a light touch. But there is an honesty and a sincerity to both the comedy and the drama in Pride, which tonally sits somewhere between the sledgehammer feel-good of The Full Monty (1997) and the emotional authenticity of Billy Elliot (2000).
But it would take the hardest of hearts not to be won over by the film's charm. Make no mistake, Pride is a feel good film but in the best possible sense. It celebrates two communities coming together and moving forward; not through tolerance but acceptance and co-operation. A remembrance of victories passed, Pride may also serve as a rallying cry for battles still to be won.
Thursday, 23 October 2014
War is hell. It's a sentiment that's been at the heart of almost every war film ever made so there's little to distinguish David Ayer's Fury in that regard from the battalion of movies which have preceded it.
Not even its focus on the one Sherman tank and the five-man squad which inhabit it is an entirely novel concept: the 2009 Israeli film, Lebanon, took place within the claustrophobic confines of an army tank during the Lebanon War of 1972.
Fury is the name given to the Sherman tank captained by Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a take-no-prisoners leader who stands strong for the men under his command and does all his doubting in the rare moments he's alone. Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), the Bible-basher, Trini (Michael Pena), the Mexican-American, and Grady (Jon Bernthal), the redneck, have seen all of their action in North Africa and Europe in Wardaddy's company and now, in the final months of World War II as the Allies push further and further into Germany, they're joined by newbie, Norman (Logan Lerman).
A military clerk, Norman has not seen any action but he's about to undergo a baptism of fire; Wardaddy keen to impress upon the young man that it's 'kill or be killed', with no room for sympathy no matter the age or sex of your enemy, nor even if they appear to be dead or not. An extra round of fire into a lifeless body can't hurt either way.
Episodic in structure, Fury excels in its action sequences -- the film's third act comprised nearly of one entire 'last stand' scenario -- but splutters somewhat when it stops to focus on the men inside the war machine.
And things aren't helped any by the at-times indecipherable dialogue. While the highly effective sound design has you rattled by shell fire and jumping at exploding land mines, it's often a struggle to understand Grady's thick Southern accent or Boyd's recitation of Bible verses when the men are at rest. We get subtitles whenever Wardaddy spricht Deutsch, but we could use them for some of the English too.
Never as overwhelmingly claustrophobic as Lebanon but intermittently tension-filled, Fury succeeds when in the midst of battle but fails to win hearts and minds when a ceasefire is called to focus on the less than convincing human drama.
Wednesday, 22 October 2014
The two most harmful words in the English language, according to Terence Fletcher, the God-like teacher at the New York Conservatory of Music, are 'good job'. For Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), mediocrity breeds contempt and Hell hath no fury like this music instructor underwhelmed; his temperament is more Zeus than Jesus, and he's more likely to throw thunderbolts -- or a drum cymbal -- your way than a compliment.
Understandably, Fletcher's students live in fear and awe of the man; desperate to be selected for his jazz band, desperate to please him and equally desperate not to incur his wrath. Andrew (Miles Teller) is one such student. A first-year pupil on scholarship, Andrew has a way with the drums and a desire to be recognised as one of the greats. Being chosen as a member of Fletcher's jazz band -- which competes in State competitions -- is a sure sign he's on his way.
It's also the beginning of a nightmare in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash, a film that makes drumming seem like a vocation as fraught as bomb disposal, and an experience which will leave Andrew's -- and the audience's -- nerves completely frazzled.
Chazelle, making just his second feature with Whiplash, and expanding upon his own similarly titled short film, explores themes about the pursuit of perfection in art, and the giving over of one's self completely in that pursuit. It's similar territory to Black Swan (2010), but unlike Natalie Portman's ballerina, it's all but Andrew's mind that is left unscathed.
For Andrew, the pursuit of greatness involves the abandonment of a life outside of music; dumping his sweet girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) in a brutally honest break-up scene, because he doesn't want her to come to resent his focus on drumming nor he to resent her for holding him back. He also puts his body on the line on more than one occasion.
Miles Teller is a young actor who continues to impress. After Rabbit Hole (2010) and The Spectacular Now (2013), he again proves that he is the real deal. Teller is no pretty boy headed for matinee idol status but the guy can act. As charming as the best of them, he also possesses a steeliness which allows him to be tough and unforgiving when required.
J.K. Simmons' Fletcher is equally unforgiving. There's perhaps one too many homophobic missives fired off by Fletcher -- lest you forget he truly is an awful person -- but there's no denying the fun to be had in hearing the maestro tearing his pupils a new one, nor the fun Simmons must have had in playing him. Perhaps best known as the kind-of-cool dad in Juno (2007), here he plays the drill sergeant teacher from Hell, sinking his teeth into the role and the scenery.
But as sadistic as Fletcher is, Andrew is equally masochistic: drumming until his fingers bleed and coming back time and again for more of his teacher's abuse. Even after they part ways, Andrew can't help but be drawn back to Fletcher to seek, and hopefully win, his approval.
If the love of Andrew's father (Paul Reiser) is unconditional and undemanding, Fletcher's is hard-won and all the more rewarding for it. It's tough love in extremis but Fletcher, it seems, completes Andrew in what might just be the most dysfunctional movie romance of 2014.
Whiplash is definitely one of the better films of the year, even as, like Andrew's drum solo in the film's tension-filled climax, it goes on a little too long and slightly wayward. Perfect it may not be but when it's on a roll and in full flight, Whiplash is much, much more than a job well done.
Monday, 20 October 2014
Roadshow Films/Warners Bros.
Dysfunctional family comedies -- or 'dramadies', depending on the level of drama involved -- have become a dime a dozen since first appearing as a resolutely American indie filmmaking genre in the 1990s in the wake of the Sundance Film Festival, so it requires something special to standout from the pack.
An all-star cast -- Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda, and the ubiquitous Adam Driver -- was no doubt intended to be the draw card for Shawn Levy's This Is Where I Leave You, but it proves to be its downfall. Or rather, it is the screenplay -- adapted by Jonathan Tropper from his own book -- which is most at fault for it gives this impressive ensemble very little to do -- thus dashing audience expectations of them -- and even less that is remotely believable.
Upon the news of the death of their patriarch, the Altman siblings return to the family nest to sit Shiva -- seven days of traditional Jewish mourning -- as much to fulfill their lapsed Jewish father's final request as to appease their grief-stricken mother, Hillary (Fonda).
The kidults aren't too pleased to be observing a tradition which they had little time for growing up (the Shiva seats are set-up where the Altman Christmas tree usually resides), nor to be taking time out from their own lives to serve house arrest with their therapist mother who used her children's lives for fodder for her books.
Judd (Bateman) especially has little time for other people's problems given his recent separation from his wife (Abigail Spencer) following the discovery of her year-long affair with the radio shock jock (Dax Shephard) for whom he acts as producer.
But then most of the Altman brood seem to be less than happy with their lot in life: only-daughter Wendy (Fey) has a workaholic husband and a ton of guilt over the former high school boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) permanently injured in a car accident and who conveniently still lives across the street; Paul (Corey Stoll) who now runs the family sporting goods store and is trying desperately to have children with wife, Annie (Kathryn Hahn), who just happens to be a former ex of Judd's.
And then there's the family baby, Phillip (Driver). The carefree, career-swapping n'er-do well who drives a sports car bought for him by his former therapist turned girlfriend, Tracy (Connie Britton); a woman smart enough to know she can do better in the relationship stakes, and who should also have known better than to attend the pity party of her young lover's family.
Throw in Judd's high school sweetheart (Rose Byrne), a shock pregnancy, familial misunderstandings and the smoking of some joints and you have the recipe for a top-notch comedy. Or so you'd think. But the laughs are few and far between in This Is Where I leave You, and not particularly laugh-out-loud. Nor is the drama particularly engaging or affecting.
There are revelations, sibling rivalries reignited and familial bonds reaffirmed, and tears before almost every bed time during the week-long stay under the Altman roof. But there's very little to warrant spending 103-minutes with this family and their first world problems, and even less of it memorable.
Unlike the recent sibling dramedy, The Skeleton Twins, This Is Where I Leave You fails to bring the funny or the pathos so you may not want to rush to RSVP for this family gathering.
Wednesday, 15 October 2014
The snow cannons which fire periodically at the French Alps ski resort -- the pristine yet chilly setting for writer-director Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure -- act as both a warning shot and as symbolic thunder for an impending emotional storm for the holidaying Swedish couple at the film's centre.
When a man-made avalanche barrels down the slopes and towards the outdoor restaurant where Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli), and their two children are sitting down to lunch on day two of their week-long vacation, curiosity soon turns to fear as it looks as though the controlled snow dump may actually wipe the restaurant out.
Faced with a 'fight or flight' decision in the oncoming avalanche, Tomas makes the wrong choice: grabbing his iPhone and running; leaving Ebba and the kids to fend for themselves. It's a decision which results in a series of emotional aftershocks that will have Tomas and Ebba questioning what kind of people they are and what kind of marriage they have.
At first the couple don't discuss what happened but it's eating away at Ebba (every emotion playing across Kongsli's face). In the company of fellow vacationers at dinner, she recounts the events and Tomas's actions. Tomas, in his defense, says that's not what happened but each is entitled to their own perception.
But it's when hosting a dinner party for visiting friends Mats (Kristover Hivju) and Fanny (Fanni Metelius), where Ebba again raises the issue -- and forces Tomas to confront his actions -- that a seismic shift in the relationship occurs.
Ostlund's black-ish comedy takes an unblinking look (Fredrik Wenzel's camera is always still, observant) at the emotional fall-out of this event; raising questions about masculinity as both a genetic predisposition and a social construct. Does man's desire to survive outweigh his desire to protect his offspring? Is it the role of the man or simply a parent to protect those offspring? Is a man defined by his words or his deeds? And by whom is he more harshly judged -- society or himself -- when he fails to live up to these responsibilities?
Amusingly, after trying valiantly to defend his friend's honour, Mats (who resembles a Viking but believes himself to be a 'sensitive new age guy') begins to question his own masculinity, and what he would have done in the exact same situation.
Indeed, Force Majeure -- Sweden's submission for this year's Oscars (Best Foreign Language Film), and already a prize winner at Cannes (Un Certain Regard) -- may not be a wise choice as a 'date' film but it makes for a great debate film: whose side are you on? What would you have done in Tomas's situation? Or what do you think you would have done? Careful now, it's tricky out on the slopes.
Monday, 13 October 2014
Entertainment One Films
Jailed for an unspecified but presumably low-level crime (incurring just a six-month sentence), JR (Brenton Thwaites) still finds himself in a maximum security facility among armed robbers, rapists and murderers. His cellmate is the prison bitch for one of the gangs and it looks like JR is headed for a similar fate before he's taken under the wing of notorious bank robber, Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor).
Lynch's interest in the kid isn't sexual but by no means altruistic, taking the form of a mentor and pupil relationship in Julius Avery's directorial debut Son Of A Gun. JR's imminent release makes him the perfect vehicle by which to make contact with Sam (Jacek Koman), a Russian mobster whom Lynch had dealings with before his incarceration, and who will facilitate, with JR's help, a daring escape for the heist-meister.
Once free, Lynch, JR and fellow escapee, Sterlo (Matt Noble), sign-on to carry out a heist on a gold mining operation for Sam, each receiving equal shares from the multi-million dollar haul. Of course, in the best tradition of movie heists, nothing goes to plan and double-cross upon double-cross ensues.
Son Of A Gun may be a heist film but it's no Ocean's 11 with a band of witty misfits bantering back and forth. In fact the early prison scenes are quite grim. There is humour in Avery and John Collee's screenplay but that's neither the emphasis nor strength of the film. The manouverings and machinations of the characters and the plot -- some clever, some clumsy -- is where the focus rightly lies.
JR is a chess player and is always thinking two or three moves ahead. But he's also young, naive and scared, so he becomes a pawn in Lynch's game long before he realizes that he's a mere piece that can be sacrificed should the need arise. JR is also young and horny, so his judgement is clouded and his thinking done from below the waist when he falls for Tasha (Alicia Vikander). A gangster's moll with a Russian accent and who may or may not have a heart of gold, it's JR's unwise attraction to Tasha which keeps him from making a clean break from the increasingly volatile situation in which he finds himself.
Thwaites (already having had a taste of Hollywood in this year's YA adaptation, The Giver) is a likable if not magnetic protag, but the film's draw card is McGregor. It's an impressive casting coup for any first-time feature film maker, and McGregor delivers; infusing Lynch -- in spite of his bad hair and ugly jeans -- with his well-worn charm without ever once convincing you that his anti-hero is in any way benign. Vikander (the Swedish actress unrecognizable from 2012's Anna Karenina) makes the most of her by-the-numbers role.
Son Of A Gun is by no means original but then, the heist-gone-bad genre is almost as old as cinema itself; an Australian setting and a recognizable vernacular can't abolish decades of genre cliches and tropes. But as a calling card for Avery, who cut his teeth on short films, there's more positives than negatives to be taken away from the experience.
Wednesday, 8 October 2014
In the same historic 2008 presidential election which saw the United States elect its first black president, Californians voted in favour of Proposition 8: that marriage be defined as the union between one man and one woman, thus overturning the state's previous legalization of same-sex marriage. One step forward, two steps back.
Ben Cotner and Ryan White's documentary, The Case Against 8 charts the proceeding legal battle to overturn Prop 8, a fight which will take five years to reach an outcome. That battle is led by Ted Olsen and David Boies, two attorneys who were opposing counsel in the Bush v. Gore court case (re: a recount of presidential election votes in Florida) of 2000.
Olsen is a noted conservative, and his decision to support the case to overturn Prop 8 surprised his fellow Republicans as much as it does the American Federation for Equal Rights (AFER) which is behind the case.
But The Case Against 8 is not a dry documentary about legal wheelings and dealings; Cotner and White wisely choosing to keep the emphasis on the two couples at the heart of the battle -- Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami -- and representative of same sex couples everywhere.
When California legalised same-sex marriage in May 2008, some 18,000 couples married in the ensuing months. But much to everyone's surprise, the conservative-backed Proposition 8 passed in the presidential election, and those marriages -- including those of Kris and Sandy, Jeffrey and Paul -- were rendered null and void. They, and all other gay people, were effectively told that they were less than; that they were not equal to their fellow (heterosexual) Americans in the eyes of the law. And that hurt.
The film humanises and personalises the battle for marriage equality by focusing on the two couples at the heart of the case: Kris and Sandy, two women who married and brought two sons each from their previous relationships to form a loving family (we get to see Kris's twins grow up over the course of the film); and Jeffrey and Paul, who want to start a family of their own but who want to do so in the "traditional" way -- within the bonds of marriage. You can't not be moved by either couples' plight.
Not surprisingly, no members of the opposing counsel in defense of Prop 8 appear in The Case Against 8. But that doesn't mean the film lacks perspective. Yes it has an agenda but when that agenda is equality, any opposition seems seems ignorant at best, cruel at worst.
Love is love, and you'll be hard pressed not to get a little misty-eyed throughout The Case Against 8 which proves that what is the right thing and what is the law can sometimes be one and the same, even if the latter takes a little convincing to say 'I do'.
Tuesday, 7 October 2014
A serial killer who transforms his victims from man to walrus? It's as crazy a high concept as there ever has been, one that came about as writer-director Kevin Smith was spit-balling on his podacst. But what sounds funny on the air -- and in one's head -- doesn't necessarily translate to the screen, and so it is with Tusk: an oddball, not uninteresting creature which ultimately doesn't stay afloat.
Wallace (Justin Long) is one half of the Not-See Party along with Teddy (Haley Joel Osment), comic podcasters who riff on pop culture and perhaps entertain themselves more than they do their audience. But they've managed to build up a following and an income, even if Wallace's girlfriend, Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), prefers the 'old' Wallace, the guy who was broke but nice.
It's when Wallace heads to north Manitoba, Canada to interview a hapless teen, whose video of an accidental amputation has gone viral and which Wallace and Teddy mocked mercilessly on their show, that things go south. Upon arrival Wallace discovers that the teen has finished the job his wayward samurai sword began, ending his own life.
With his interview gone and time to kill, Wallace stumbles onto another subject via a 'room for rent' notice in a men's room, introducing him to Howard Howe (Michael Parks). Howe is a loquacious host and former seafarer, with tales of Hemingway, D-Day and a shipwreck in the Russian arctic, and Wallace seems to have struck gold.
That arctic tale reveals Howe to be a soul survivor who, once he made it to land, found comfort and companionship in the arms (flippers?) of a walrus he named Mr. Tusk. Unfortunately for Wallace, he's about to become the latest victim in Howe's mad ambition to recapture the past by creating his own man-walrus. Cue gruesome limb removals, a body suit fashioned from human skin and other indignities and horrors (karmic retribution perhaps?) which aren't entirely without humour.
Intentionally or incidentally, Tusk references all manner of film and literature, from Shelley's Frankenstein and Melville's Moby Dick, to Rob Reiner's Misery (1990), Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Pedro Almodovar's own Frankenstein tale, The Skin I Live In (2011). There's even a hint of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Howe's desire to recapture that golden moment on the island between man and beast recalling Gatsby's longing for Daisy and a past long gone and a future that could never be.
Sadly, nothing in Smith's film is as eloquent or poignant as Fitzgerald's prose. And while there is some great dialogue -- mostly delivered by Parks -- Tusk loses the momentum built up in the first half when Teddy and Ally arrive in Manitoba in search of Wallace, teaming up with Quebecois detective, Guy Lapointe, to track down both men.
It's this star cameo (no spoilers here) which hampers the film's genuine sense of dread: an extended flashback involving Lapointe is excruciating, thanks in no small part to his absurd accent and not helped by his Depardieu-like proboscis. What could have been a truly disturbing denouement is lessened by unfunny theatrics (not to mention a too obvious music cue).
Tusk is not a terrible film but it is bad. And not in a "so bad it's good" kind of way. Cult status may beckon for this latest effort by a director who indeed has a strong following, but just as a man in a walrus suit is still just a man, you can't help thinking that Smith the filmmaker has become an emperor without clothes.
Wednesday, 1 October 2014
20th Century Fox Films
"Blondes make the best victims." Alfred Hitchcock is quoted as saying. "They're like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints." And Amy Dunne -- a New York princess-cum-Missouri housewife who goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary -- is primed for victimhood: blonde, beautiful, sympathetic and media-friendly, her story and visage appeals to the big hearts and small minds of middle America and a lazy media. But is she a victim?
The conceit of David Fincher's latest thriller, Gone Girl, is to have you guessing -- or not, if you've read Gillian Flynn's bestseller, skimmed a review of the film, or merely glimpsed a Twitter conversation -- as to whether or not Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) killed his wife (Rosamund Pike), only to flip the switch half way through and have you thinking "why hasn't someone killed her sooner?"
For Gone Girl is as much a black comedy on the trials of marriage as it is a whodunnit. Nothing and no-one is as they seem and neither narrator -- Amy, who reads from her diary, nor Fincher, working from Flynn's screenplay -- can be trusted. No-one knows what goes on between couples behind closed doors, and Fincher's not about to make the Dunnes' relationship black and white (though it's decidedly more dark than light).
And marriage isn't the only institution being skewered here; the media and gullible public come in for none-too-subtle ribbing. Nick's seeming indifference to his wife's disappearance -- he doesn't seem to be reacting the way everyone, including police officers Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpin (Patrick Fugit), thinks he should -- and Amy's mere female-ness, positing the couple on opposing sides of a popularity contest.
Of course, Amy's case wouldn't receive half the media attention it does had she been black. That's not just an inherently American problem but one which pervades almost all Western media: white victim good, female better, blonde = gold. And that's certainly the case for media mavens Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) and Sharon Schieber (Sela Ward), who smell blood in the water and ratings in (and on) the air. As a result, Nick, guilty or not, is fighting an uphill battle from the get-go.
Affleck does a fine job of playing the all-American boy; your typical high school quarterback or prom king who quite possibly peaked in high school even if he did manage to marry the prom queen. But Nick is also a writer and teacher, so he's no dummy -- despite his occasional goofy slip-ups -- and it's that intelligence and reserve which works against him in the court of public appeal.
Rosmaund Pike, a fine British actress landing the role of a lifetime, has the harder task of making Amy more than the victim, the hard-done-by-wife. Her performance comes into its own in the film's second act when we learn so much more about the trust fund beauty. And even if the material Pike has to work with veers toward the extreme end of the satire spectrum, abandoning reality for something more hysterical, she makes Amy highly-watchable.
The film itself is an oddly paced affair: a slow first act (focussing on Nick), a cracking second act (where Amy takes centre stage), and a third act that feels stretched out with false endings and a resolution that feels more like a pulled punch than a TKO.
But there's much to reward and delight the patient viewer (the film clocks in at 149-minutes), particularly those who have not read the source material (and are better able than some to avoid the spoiler territory of social media). And Fincher, arguably incapable of making a bad film, is on-song if not necessarily in top form.
But one wonders what The Master of Suspense himself would've done with Gone Girl? Hitchcock would certainly have had some bloody good fun with Amy Dunne.