Out in Theaters: GONE GIRL

I knew a guy in college who was accused of rape. He was a few years older than me and confided the tale over a joint and some cheap whiskey. The case didn’t go to court nor did he see the inside of a jail cell but the accusation alone stood as a scarlet letter. He became a bit of a pariah; an un-dateable. His side of the story admittedly painted a dubious picture – both of them were drinking, they fooled around, two weeks later it was reported as a rape – but I nonetheless felt uncomfortable swilling from the same bottle of Seagram’s 7 as him.

Like he had unintentionally Inceptioned me, the inkling of suspicion was planted, the possibility that this guy had physically and emotionally scarred a woman swarmed my mind and grew into an unpleasant garden of doubt. It almost didn’t matter who was guilty. The blood was in the water. So what if he were innocent? The idea had still taken hold. So what if all it took to break a man down to the studs was one simple, four-letter word? Tawana Brawley set a judicial precedent with her 1988 court case of such a nature, Crystal Mangum and the Duke Lacrosse Team proved such an occurrence was no novelty. You better believe that acquitted or no, none of those chums are going to be the next contestant on The Bachelor. And then what if we dial that up to murder? How many Grand Trial Juries see a case in which a wife is murdered and immediately assume the husband’s involvement? Gone Girl harnesses that destructive power of accusation, plants us in the eye of the storm and dares its audience to keep up with each and every turn, no matter how subtle or seemingly easy to dismiss. Brace for impact, it’s a hell of a ride.


Adapted from Gillian Flynn‘s Best Seller of the same name, Gone Girl is a movie I knew I was going to love from the opening credits, which is no short surprise for movie maestro David Fincher. The names of associated talent blip in bright white words to fade unnaturally quickly from focus. They supernova. In the background, staccato shots of perfectly framed suburban residences attack the audience, underscored by Trent Reznor‘s pulsing, foggy soundtrack. Mimicking the volcanic rumble of a natural disaster or, worse yet, demons trying to escape from hell, his gothic, almost science fiction-like soundscape rolls over all like a fiery wave. As if on a timer, the blue house with white trim jolts to a four-bedroom with a red door. A low synth note sustains. Suburbia never looked so menacing.

Day one, morning of. Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) enters a bar; his bar; The Bar. It’s only 11 but he fixes a whiskey, neat. Sister Margo, played with gusto by Carrie Coon, joins him. It’s his fifth anniversary. The “wood” year. Appropriate seeing that’s what his marriage now resembles. Margo makes disparaging remarks. Nick grants them. His wife’s a bitch. “Amazing Amy” is a farce.


A side story breaks in without warning. In swooping penmanship, Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) diary takes us back in time. In flashback, life looks promising. A storybook. Reznor’s tracks get playful, as if they’re played on a kiddy xylophone. Nick and Amy spar verbally, the flirtation of the intelligentsia, before kissing in a sugar storm. Their meeting is an Ivy League daydream. As a girl, Amy’s life had been massaged and melded into a popular kid’s series penned by her mother, “Amazing Amy”. Amy’s amazing counterpart always made the varsity team. She was a shoe-in for valedictorian. She had a dog because it made her relatable. Amazing Amy was a tough act to follow. But in the potpourri of a sugar storm, the crusty side of life is easy enough to forget.

Day one, afternoon. Nick returns home to find a bouquet of smashed glass and no Amy. After finding a trace of blood splatter, Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) is quick to rule this a missing persons case. The hunt for Amazing Amy begins. As the vigil lights spark, the curtain comes up on Amy’s ill-standing in the community. Even before her disappearance, she was a ghost. A New Yorker with her nose too high in the air to notice the Missouri (she pronounces the word startlingly like “misery”) locals around her. Nick registers as unfazed to the social community at large with TV personalities and town’s people alike taking turns to knock his untimely playboy grins and unbefitting calm.


By Day Seven, the incident has unraveled into a full scale media circus and Fincher’s direction chases the rabbit down the hole. Nick’s wrapped up in a chess game played with power sex and won by carnal obliteration. Staring into the furtive abyss of the death sentence, Nick associates with a high status defense lawyer, played by a surprisingly great Tyler Perry, as he tries to mount a case that goes beyond just proving he didn’t kill his wife. In the age of social networking, you also have to win Twitter. The murderer becomes a Bachelor contestant. Womankind nationwide have to get their jollies if he stands a chance at an acquittal. Nick’s a pawn, moved unwittingly across the board by a mastermind the likes of Bobby Fisher and Fincher knows exactly when, where and how much to show. Just watching is stressful. Alleviating yourself by sucking down Coca-Cola or smacking popcorn is self-defeating. You don’t even dare to take a bathroom break.   

In large part thanks to the massively enticing performances, Gone Girl threatens to slack your jaw so low it could fall off. Though unlikely to see much award fanfare, the oft underrated Ben Affleck is perfectly on mark. He’s not the hero you want but he’s the one Fincher’s picture deserves. Above him, below him and all around him, Rosamund Pike is an explosion. She’s breathtaking. She’s the remnants of a shattered China Doll, self-repairing into a new, frightening form. Like Chucky. She’s brilliant. She’s my current front runner for Best Actress. If not at the Oscars, in my own awards. A scene in which Amy undergoes a fluid-soaked transformation is as startling as it is perfect. The phoenix rises from the ashes. The devil is in the details. Fincher’s camera eats it up like pudding. Like everything else in her life, Amy owns her scenes.


Let’s break down one bit in particular. Ex-boyfriend Neil Patrick Harris fantasizes about octopus and scrabble on the Greece coastline. Like Amy, the octopus feeds through a hidden maw. A cavernous web of teeth. Impossible to predict, its arms are a slippery tangle of deception. Before you even see the octopus coming, you disappear in their cloud of ink. They’re inconspicuous predators. Similarly, the best Scrabble players can find meaning in a mess. In that cloud of ink, they thrive. They whip things to their advantage, trading up for better letters. For better standing. For a better Amy. Octopus and scrabble. His fantasy is his undoing. He feeds right into Amy’s manipulative maw.

Gone Girl deals in accusations and historical gender circumstance. It’s a 21st century battle of the sexes; a tennis match played with grenades. Amy and Nick’s affair depends entirely upon existing gender roles. It festers because of the wobbly stature between mankind and womankind. It’s not feminist. It’s emasculating. It’s not progressive. It’s the end of times. It’s a pedagogical treatise on the anatomy of a broken marriage. Or maybe all marriage. Who can tell? And I guess that’s the point. It’s always going, going, gone (girl). David Fincher absolutely hits it out of the park. It’s one of the best, and darkest, visions he’s ever dished up. Always one step before the action, Fincher demands we race to catch up. Each shot ends just marginally too quickly. His vision is frantic by design. Things get lost in the dark that are never recovered. You just have to pretend along with it. Case in point, I never got to the bottom of that college guy’s story. And in the end, his reputation never really hinged on the truth at all. Just what people thought.


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Seth McFarlane‘s go-for-broke comic stylings looked to have runs its course when Fox pulled the plug on Family Guy in 2001. But like a zombie on the rise, McFarlane rose from the grave and has gone on to infest America with two spin-offs show (American Dad, The Cleveland Show) and two feature length films, each predicated on crass sight gags, a barrage of cultural references, and poop jokes. Somehow, McFarlane has saved some of his best – and most immature – material for his latest: A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s a comedy in the crudest sense, a smorgasbord of pee-pee jokes and doo-doo gags. But, damnit, I laughed. 

McFarlane’s western comedy – one of the few in a genre that includes Mel Brook‘s love-it-or-hate-it Blazing Saddles and the Chris Farley and Matthew Perry-led Almost Heroes – starts with the most boring credit sequence I can recall in recent history. Skill-less heli-shots of rising Arizona plateaus superimposed with serif-heavy, western-style font declaring a tome of names is almost lifeless enough to snuff out any anticipation for what’s to come. An un-clever throwback to times when “they didn’t know any better,” this out-of-the-gates launch makes for a starting line lull that nearly derails the proceedings before they’ve even begun, and takes a full five minutes to recover from.

With that downtime behind us, we meet Albert (McFarlane) – a man too clever for his own good, cautiously living in the Wild Wild West. He’s quite obviously a man born in the wrong era, a conceit from which McFarlane mines much of his comedy. Albert is far too progressive to thrive in a society that resolves issues with shoot outs, far too sarcastic for a town where bar fights break out over a sour glance, and far too un-moustiacioed to be considered a man in good standing. Plus, he’s a sheep farmer who can’t even keep his sheep in one place so his pockets are more often filled with sand than pennies (or, God forbid, an entire dollar).

Because of his yellow belly ways, lowly social standing, and (presumably) lack of a mustache, his betrothed Louise (the ever-obnoxious Amanda Seyfried) dumps him for the mustache-twirling Foy (a fitfully funny Neil Patrick Harris.) Albert vents to his only friends and loving couple Edward and Ruth (Giovanni Ribisi and Sarah Silverman respectively) but realizes his situation might not be so bad considering Ruth is a prominent prostitute and yet has not slept with her long-time boyfriend. After all, they’re both Christians saving themselves for marriage. The comedy of their nontraditional set-up is a well oft drawn from but when it works, it works really well. When it doesn’t, let’s just say someone’s scooping seed off someone else’s face. Ew.


A largely humorless Liam Neeson (who knew he couldn’t be funny?) arrives on the scene as ruthless gun slinger Clinch Leatherwood with wife Anna (Charlize Theron) in tow. When Leatherwood takes off into the sunset (to do lord knows what), Anna befriends down-in-the-dumps Albert and their relationship blossoms into something that resembles a crush, which, you guessed it, causes a bit of an issue when Clinch does ride back into town.

For a movie basically resolving around a single joke – living in the old west sucked – McFarlane is able to mine a good few dozen laughs and reasonably commendable human drama (for what it is at least.) A likable and strangely committed Theron is partly responsible for us feeling any sort of bond with the characters as McFarlane’s Albert is as much a cartoon character as Peter Griffin is. But while Theron grounds us, McFarlane provides comedy in frequent, rapid-fire bursts.

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone arguing that McFarlane’s quality of comedy is anything resembling sophisticated but his quick gag, shotgun style methodology of throwing as much as possible at the wall and seeing what sticks results in an undeniably buffet of giggles. Surely there’s poop jokes mixed in with the more clever one-liners (“Take your hat off boy! Thats a dollar bill!” being the one that made me laugh most) but – as Albert’s shooting skills with attest to – if you fire enough bullets, some of them are bound to hit the target.

That’s not to say however that McFarlane doesn’t occasionally cross the line. His penchant for the occasional racist zinger may land him in a bit of hot water with more liberal-minded audiences but remember this is a movie in which a man fills not one, but two top hats brimming with dookie. Because Seth McFarlane. If you’re not offended, you’re doing something wrong.

As much as I wanted to leave this one with more fodder for my anti-McFarlane campaign, the funnyman titillated my childish side just enough to free the laughs from my hard-worn shell. It’s not necessarily something I’m proud of, but I snickered heartily alongside the (predominantly juvenile) audience members… and fairly often. While A Million Ways to Die in the West may not be a film I actively recommend, it’s one I admit will likely work your funny bone, under the right circumstances.


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