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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Gone Girl

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David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel features many of the director’s trademark features. Like his previous films, the predominant colour scheme is brown, as director of photography Jeff Cronenweth brings a dark beauty to the digital visuals (although there were points when things could have been a little brighter). Much like Panic Room and Zodiac, it is detailed to a forensic degree, which is appropriate for a film which centres around a mysterious disappearance and is concerned with artifice and construction. Like The Social Network and The Game, it features unsympathetic characters that are nonetheless compelling. And like Se7en and Fight Club, it features some unexpected twists that may leave the viewer flabbergasted. The first act consists of a deepening mystery, while the second takes an alternative route that fleshes out the events of the first. Plot developments in the third act twist into jaw-dropping moments of audacity, but to Fincher and Flynn’s credit, the film never wavers in its commitment to the narrative events, so if the viewer sees fit to ask “Really?”, Gone Girl replies, “Yes, really!”

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As the central couple Nick and Amy Dunne, Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are believable and engaging. Like previous Fincher protagonists, they are unconventional, described by lawyer Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) as “the most fucked up people I’ve ever met”. But while it would be easy to judge Nick or Amy as “good” or “bad”, what is most striking about them and the film itself is the construction of identity. Amy has a public identity of “Amazing Amy”, a fictionalised version of her life in children’s books created by her parents. During the search for Amy, Nick adopts a public persona that other characters say is false, and certainly contrasts with the side of him seen by his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). Amy displays several different personae over the course of the film, and identities are created by the media as well. TV journalist Ellen Abbott (Missi Pyle) lambasts Nick without evidence for purely sensationalist reasons; Tanner helps Nick create an alternative identity when police suspicion falls on him. As the film progresses, further identities are created for public consumption, often in stark contrast to people’s private feelings. But, the film asks, are any of these identities more real than another? Nick naïvely talks about the importance of “truth”, but Gone Girl repeatedly questions the validity of truth by highlighting multiple narratives and the identities created for these narratives. It is a cliché to say that people have public and private faces, but Gone Girl takes the disturbing step of presenting all these faces as equally constructed and therefore equally valid or indeed invalid. If the public face is no less true than the private one, why not live the public face? Is our identity the one we project or the one projected onto us? Gone Girl offers no answers to these questions, but offers a compelling and thought-provoking meditation upon them.

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The Equalizer

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Who you gonna call when wealthy white men own everything or pay the authorities to look the other way? According to Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer, you need to call a middle-aged, working-class black man, who turns to a retired woman when he needs assistance. Demographics are the most interesting aspect of this adaptation of the 1980s TV series about a former special forces operative who takes up the cause for those oppressed by organised crime and corrupt authorities. As a result, it succeeds in being far more engaging than similar vigilante thrillers such as Taken (and several other Liam Neeson vehicles such as Non-Stop and A Walk Amongst the Tombstones) and Man On Fire (which also starred Denzel Washington).

Dramatically, The Equalizer suffers when it is too much – at least two sub-plots could have been excised to make it more streamlined and towards the finale, there is unnecessary use of slo-mo to make the action more dramatic, when it would have benefitted from being more succinct. Politically, the film expresses faith in systems of law, order and justice, but claims that greed and power lead to these being corrupted (hardly original) and it is the task of the proletariat to challenge abuse and corruption. Perhaps less progressively, this challenge is violent and destructive as Robert McCall (Washington) easily murders multiple Russian gangsters, batters dirty cops to a pulp and uses any number of improvised weapons to equalise the imbalance between the powerful and the powerless. The film is generically simplistic in its portrayal of good and evil – the bad guys are so bad that they clearly deserve the grisly deaths they meet and all their victims are innocent and downtrodden, while McCall is carefully constructed to ensure normally that we support him. He is helpful and generous to those around him, especially his co-worker Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) whom he helps with a job application, as well as abused prostitute Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz). His employment at a hardware store and use of everyday tools like hammers, corkscrews, nail guns and barb wire further establish his proletariat credentials, in contrast to the sophisticated weaponry of the gangsters he confronts. But while the violence in The Equalizer is presented as necessary and justified, it is not (for the most part) glorified or presented as redemptive.

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Key to the film’s treatment of violence is Washington’s performance. Whereas other powerful performers such as Liam Neeson and Robert De Niro can be accused of coasting, Washington is never less than an utterly magnetic screen presence. His previous collaboration with Fuqua, Training Day, won him a Best Actor Oscar, largely thanks to David Ayer’s acerbic script (for other instances, see the similarly themed Ayer-written-and-directed Harsh Times and End of Watch). Richard Wenk’s script is more simplistic and less concerned with sociological and sub-cultural detail (for an intimate presentation of Russian gangsters, see Eastern Promises), but Washington demonstrates, as he has throughout his career, how much he brings to even a simplistic character. In scenes with Teri and Ralphie, McCall is jovial and amiable, but in the scenes of violence, he becomes cold, implacable and almost inhuman. This aspect of the performance prevents the violence from being glorified – instead it is mechanical and functional, a necessary response to the (gleeful) violence of the Russian gangsters and dirty cops, McCall like an antibody attacking an infection. Washington’s performance is understated, avoiding the guilt-ridden histrionics of Man On Fire and the grandstanding of Training Day and American Gangster. He hints at a great deal but clarifies little behind his hooded eyes other than his ability to assess and deal with threats (reminiscent of scenes in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes). This mystery makes him a cypher, a representative of the downtrodden, including black people, Latinos, women and the working class. While The Equalizer suffers from narrative and stylistic excess, when it focuses on its central figure, what he does and what he represents, it makes interesting claims about sites of resistance.