Friday, November 28, 2014

Notes on Gone Baby Gone Girl

I saw Gone Girl a couple weeks ago and the same weekend I finally got around to seeing Ben Affleck's (who is in Gone Girl) directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone on IFC. The movies share similar traits beyond merely fun-to-mash-up titles including somewhat elaborate and unsettling plot twists, downbeat endings and strong performances by leading men with the last name Affleck.

Only one of the movies included a leading man's penis (unless IFC edited out part of GBG). You're probably expecting me to focus on Ben Affleck's penis here (I expected it of me) but I'm not going to. I'll just say "good for him" and maybe he and Michael Fassbinder can finally help liberate today's actors from their pants. Regardless, the penis wasn't shown enough for me to get a good sense of what we're working with here, so advantage Fassbinder.

Gone Baby Gone, Affleck's first film as a director, is based on one of those Dennis Lahane novels that makes me never ever want to visit Boston (see also: Mystic River) and showcased fantastic work by Casey Affleck, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Madigan and Amy Ryan who picked up most critics awards and a nomination for Supporting Actress (losing the Oscar to Tilda Swinton in Michael Clayton, but really she won it for being Tilda Swinton). There's a lot of good stuff in the movie. Enough good stuff, in fact, that I question why Michelle Monaghan gets work. I assume she was just Liv Tyler's lip double on the set of Pearl Harbor and Affleck hired her because he couldn't think of a reasonably good actress that age that was available. Seriously, who does she screw to get work? Madigan and Ryan really should be cast as siblings somehow where they can really chew the scenery with each other, like American Horror Story or True Detective. Enough about the old, back to the current...

From an awards perspective, Gone Girl is nicely executed, great direction pulling together solid performances, editing and music out of a probably-faithful-to-the-book-I-didn't read script. When the Social Network garnered a gazillion critics' awards a few years ago, I didn't understand what was they found so artful in David Fincher's direction there. Still don't although knowing that the Winklevoss twins were both played by the same actor does impress.

Here, however, his ability to deftly merge the various layers so artfully while not serving up something the screams DAVID FINCHER MOVIE did impress me here. This movie isn't directed by the David Fincher who directed Se7en and Fight Club and Zodiac and The Game and Panic Room! (Becky and I added the exclamation point). I might credit the maturation to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but I'm not sure if The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo counts as him sliding back into his old ways.

And it's not that I don't like the first David Fincher, it's just that his style is so recognizable that it's almost cliche. But dammit it's fun. The over reliance on flashlights has its charms in a thriller.

The layer I noticed first this time was the music. Fincher returned to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross whose collaboration on The Social Network earned them an Oscar and on The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo earned them a Grammy. I don't know that I could hum you any of this score, but I remember distinctly thinking that it was great, perfect for this movie. I'm sure if I watched the movie again I could tell you more than that. I think they're solidly in the race for another Oscar nomination.

I also loved the casting for this movie. Ben Affleck is the most traditional part of that, but the role plays to his strengths as an actor and his acting has matured. Or he showed his penis and that's all it takes with me. Rosamund Pike, on the other hand, is not someone I would automatically think of for a role this complicated and unlikable (in large part because I wouldn't have thought of her). The producer credit for Reese Witherspoon is due to her snapping up the movie rights immediately with the idea that she's tackle the role. I think we're all better off with that not happening although I would love it if there was some kind of screen test with her and perhaps a few others doing the same scene (like Hilary Swank and Gwyneth Paltrow [not really, more to establish that Witherspoon's Oscar owes more to good timing than talent]). Pike does an amazing job of inhabiting an odious character and I think she's the movie's single strongest shot at an Oscar nomination (her or for Adapted Screenplay). Interestingly she may face competition from Reese Witherspoon whose turn in Wild has "Oscar bait" written all over it. In as less competitive year for lead actors I'd call Affleck solidly in the race for a nomination but given the competition I think he's dark horse at best. He'll face Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, Steve Carrell as Jon du Pont and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, so really it's tough to rationalize him among the final 5.

The ensemble is somewhat eclectic, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle and Lisa Banes, all faves, seem like obvious casting choices. Casey Wilson and Tyler Perry, on the other hand, did not. And Tyler Perry, while not particularly showy, is awesome in this role. I don't expect any of the non-leads to merit more than an ensemble mention in awards season.

The movie's editing is probably solid (not strong, but not a dark horse) for a nomination. I think the cinematography, lacking really showy moody work, is dark horse at best. It's nice camera work, but the 3-minute trailer from The Immigrant should beat this entire movie in that category. With contemporary costumes and current era residential locations I don't see nominations for Costume Design or Production Design. It lacks any obvious audio elements that would suggest nominations in the sound categories and I doubt make-up or visual effects will merit either.

I don't think there's an eligible Original Song and I'm disappointed that there isn't some shitty pop song, totally unrelated to the movie expect possibly having the words "gone" and "girl" in the title and the chorus, blatantly looking for a nomination. The kind of song that earned Huey Lewis a Oscar nomination for "The Power of Love" (a song which has nothing whatsoever to do with time travel). I'm thinking Shawn Colvin or Seal or Blake Shelton. Or maybe all 3.

The movie is a strong contender for Best Picture, Best Director for Fincher and Adapted Screenplay.