Sunday, October 05, 2014


Movie Review -- Gone Girl

Real movie fans follow directors rather than actors (I still say actresses for female actors but I'll use the politically correct version here). But what if you hate an actor for being, let's say, somewhat limited in fake emotion, but kinda admire his directing, what then? I think Ben Affleck is not a good actor. He's in the Kevin Costner/Clint Eastwood school of acting, that is, he just plays himself, somewhat woodenly, over and over, and cannot do anything else. (It's probably no accident that both Costner and Eastwood are pretty good directors as well). Unfortunately for Mr. Affleck, however, he's not as likable as the other two, he just has the wooden part down pat. And his inability to analyze political questions is ever less endearing. Two strikes. So I generally avoid an Affleck film like a virus. On the other hand, what if a very good director has Affleck in a movie, what then? Well, you go see it.

So I went to see Gone Girl, yesterday, and for the most part enjoyed it. David Fincher remains an outstanding director, his screw up of the Aliens franchise notwithstanding.

I don't believe there are many college educated women in America who have not read the book, but I do believe it did not appeal to a lot of men, certainly not the right thinking, gun toting type. So I never even wanted to read it. Good thing.

I know that knowing what's going to happen doesn't have to be a check on your enjoyable anxiety during a movie (See Apollo 13, for example). But I think it was a big plus that I didn't know the story. So I was able to feel my loyalties switch during the progression of the narrative. I was unable to see just where things were going and those things added to my enjoyment of the movie. I also thought all the women actors in the film were utterly terrific. Even the small roles.

The ending is a little unsatisfactory. For starters, I couldn't buy in to it completely. His media-perfect, welcoming embrace of a blood covered woman who had just committed 1st Degree Murder and attempted 1st Degree Murder on him, was unlikely. I would have locked the doors and pretended not to be at home, for as long as I was able. Affleck's plan to tough it out for 18 years also seems so unlikely as to be jarringly irrational. Yeah, like he's never going to piss her off again. Just being a careful, never straying, toady husband will piss her off. Just as unlikely is her plan to make him want to tough it out for 18 years. You don't try to get the state to execute the one you love. And it's utterly clear that she didn't love him, more the concept of him. She seems the perfect archetype of the narcissist to me--both narcissist and sociopath, not an uncommon combination I am led to believe. I know they are supposed to be "complicated" characters, but they're not really. Nobody is so complicated that they can maintain directly contradictory feelings, at the same time, about another. I know, I know, there's Catullus' poem that starts: "I hate and I love"; but that describes the conflicted shifting feelings we can have for another. Generally if you get to the 'I hate' part in a relationship, you don't conspire to tie that person to you for nearly two decades, you're out of there, even if you miss him or her later. (This might be TMI, sorry). Even Catullus abandoned Clodia/Lesbia at the end.

The super competence of the title character was a little difficult to accept as well. Of course, she had the history of stunning success with state-assisted revenge, but the mistakes she made while being gone ultimately had no consequence. Indeed, her mistakes helped her to a better endgame. How is that possible? I blame the book for this central difficulty with the plot and not David Fincher. He tried hard and largely succeeded in making us suspend our disbelief. Right up to the ending, at least. Just as difficult to swallow was her desire to complete her revenge-by-proxy with her suicide. Where's the fun in that? I don't think she would have contemplated snuffing it for a second, much less pick the date.

Oh, and the male actors other than Affleck were good. Barney was particularly creepy and Tyler Perry, who apparently is responsible for half the GDP in Southern California lately, was perfect and perfectly likeable as the Johnnie Cochran inspired character. Well done.

I think a rational guy would move all the un-needed luxury purchases out of the woodshed as soon as he discovered them. Certainly his twin sister could have done it. I think a rational Barney would have been less restrictive on her ability to leave the lake house. A trapped rat is a formidable adversary. Would he leave her weapon/tools? Did she somehow know she would need the box cutter in the tool box in the hick retreat? I think the police would have blood typed the urine specimens at incredible Amy's OB/gyn. I think the FBI would have downloaded Barney's call records and perhaps his credit card "trail" to pick her up; the distance from his home in eastern PA to near where she was in the Ozarks is more than one tank of gas away.

But there are two severe imbalances that rob the ending of credibility and enjoyability. 1) Amy has done horrific things (false rape, false murder, actual murder via false rape) and Affleck has been merely a normal asshole. We want her punished. I'm not saying change the ending; I'm criticizing the only Fincher type ending possible here. 2) There are numerous things that should cause Affleck to leave and/or build a case to prosecute Amy for her real crimes. There's the list from #1 just above; his justifiable fear of his murderous wife, his easily foreseeable hell in staying with her, his stone sureness that he will fail at being an acceptable husband. But what's on the other side of the ledger? He says he doesn't want to be unpopular and that he wants to raise the child and that if he leaves she's sure to get custody (and he's right about that last). But if he gets evidence of any of the bad things she's done (it can't be impossible) and she gets either a state trial or a public opinion trial, then he won't be unpopular for the breaking up and he has an excellent chance for getting custody. He doesn't even want to sleep with her any more, but he's going to stay? Pull the other one.

Go see it.


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