twists and turns in gone girl make it modern day hitchcock
GONE GIRL Thriller: Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, David Clennon, Lisa Banks, Missi Pyle, Emily Ratajkowski, Scoot McNairy. Directed by: David Fincher (Cert 16)
Bringing a best-selling book to the screen is a process fraught with all manner of potential pitfalls. One of the dangers is that the director panders to fans of the original works who want to see every single paragraph replicated in the screenplay, which is why we've had to endure ordeals such as The Hobbit and the needlessly stretched Harry Potter series.
David Fincher himself should be only too aware of these hazards, having given us the turgid The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Admittedly the book itself was atrocious, but at least we've probably been spared two sequels and he's back on flying form with Gone Girl.
Gillian Flynn's novel was one of those books which every second person seemed to be reading on the DART a couple of years back, and in fairness, once I eventually got around to reading it a couple of months ago it proved to be a gripping page-turner.
Far-fetched and somewhat trashy yes, but thoroughly entertaining with it, and it also managed to make quite a few interesting observations about relationships, the media and contemporary notions of celebrity and notoriety along the way. In short, it was prime material for a movie adaptation.
Initially, the notion that Gillian Flynn herself was writing the screenplay caused some concern.
Novelists can be extremely precious about pruning their work for the cinema and, as the story relies on a he said/she said device to drive the narrative and contains a major plot twist slap bang in the middle of proceedings, this could have proved disastrous for a first-time screenwriter. Relax, we're fine and Flynn's done a great job.
The basic set-up is that Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) have moved from New York to his hometown in Missouri because of the recession when she goes missing on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary.
Through deftly handled flashbacks we see how the couple met, he being a magazine writer and she a somewhat cosseted trust fund girl whose exaggerated childhood had been the subject of a series of best-selling books by her parents.
Psychological clues as to what's going on are dropped at every stage of the story as we continue to jump backwards and forwards, with Nick initially portrayed as the distraught husband wondering what happened to his wife, but little breadcrumbs of doubt soon turn the tables completely.
To give too much of the actual plot away would be remiss on the part of any reviewer, but the way the narrative develops and little layers of characters' outward artifice are peeled away is masterful.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder and Howard Hawks would have loved to get their hands on this material back in the day and can easily imagine, say, Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck in their Double Indemnity personas playing Nick and Amy.
The performances are excellent too, with Affleck in great form as the exasperated Nick while Rosamund Pike is a revelation as Amy, displaying a steely streak barely hinted at in her previous work.
In fact, Fincher has drawn fabulous turns right the way through the cast, Carrie Coon memorable as Nick's twin sister, Kim Dickens suitably cynical as the detective investigating the disappearance and Tyler Perry perfect as a celebrity lawyer hired to deflect suspicion from the hounded husband.
Top class entertainment, particularly so if you haven't read the book and don't know what's coming in which case you're in for a treat.
Drama: Starring Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, David Ogrodnic, Jerzy Trela. Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski (Cert Club)
Pawel Pawlikowsi returns to his native Poland for a magnificent movie which delivers weighty and resonant emotional heft during its sprightly 82-minute running-time and is a visual delight to boot.
Set in Poland in 1961 and shot using natural light and in monochrome, the story involves Anna (radiant newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska), an orphan who's spent her life in a convent and is about to take her vows as a nun when her Mother Superior suggests that before she takes the final step she discovers more about who she really is.
This involves a trip to her aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, sexually permissive former judge who reveals shocking news about Anna's background. It turns out that Anna is really Ida and her parents perished during the war, prompting this odd couple to set out to discover more about what happened to them.
Even though the actual dialogue is quite sparse on reflection, the painterly way the director frames the scenes and moves the story along at a fair old clip means that we're able to take in themes of guilt (both personal and national), forgiveness, the notion of faith and the futility or otherwise of religion without feeling like we've been lectured.
Kulesza is absolutely remarkable as Wanda, giving one of the year's most memorable performances as a woman gradually wondering just what purpose her life has actually had, and while the film certainly does have its moments of sly humour there were gasps and sobs at the screening I attended at particular scenes.
A remarkable film, definitely one of the year's best.
LIFE AFTER BETH
Comedy/horror: Starring Dane DeHaan, Aubrey Plaza, John C.Reilly, Mollie Shannon, Paul Reiser, Cheryl Hines, Anna Kendrick, Matthew Gray Gubler. Directed by: Jeff Baena (Cert 15A)
Trying to blend comedy and horror is a tricky business at the best of times, most efforts falling falling on the side of comedy which tends to leave horror aficionadoes feeling somewhat deflated, but Life After Beth (a pun in the title is rarely a good sign) does its best for about an hour before writer/director Jeff Baena runs out of ideas and delivers a cop-out ending.
The central premise is that Beth (Aubrey Plaza) has been fatally bitten by a snake on a hiking trip, leaving her boyfriend Zach (the excellent Dane DeHaan) a grieving mess.
However, a few days after her funeral Zach happens to be moping past Beth's house and sees her parents (a fine double act from John C. Reilly and Mollie Shannon) shepherding their undead daughter into an upstairs room.
Confused, to put it mildly, he confronts the father and discovers that she just appeared at the door as if nothing had ever happened.
Anyone who's ever seen Pet Sematary or read a horror novel knows that people coming back from the dead never ends well, but Zach is so delighted to have Beth back that he overlooks this small detail and is even prepared to tolerate his revenant girlfriend's new-found liking for smooth jazz.
Good gags zip the first half of the movie along, but as Beth's behaviour becomes more violent and more corpses start arriving above ground the movie starts to repeat itself with ever-decreasing results. That said, there's more genuine humour and fine comic acting in that first half than in most alleged 'comedies' you'll see this year.
ALSO RELEASED THIS WEEK
Saviours director Ross Whitaker spent several years compiling footage for Unbreakable (Cert General, 3/5), the remarkable story of Mark Pollock, a Belfastman who went blind at the age of 22 yet managed to trek to the South Pole when an accident a month before his wedding in 2010 left him paralysed to boot. A remarkable tale of resilience.