(On Cable TV, August 2015) While I like director David Fincher’s first movies more than his last few ones (Seven, The Game and Fight Club are classics; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake less so), the world at large seems to disagree, his stature having grown steadily since the beginning of his career. With Gone Girl, though, it looks as if I’m re-joining the critical consensus: It’s a terrific thriller, unsentimental and merciless with a lot of depth along the way. It starts innocently enough, as a man reports the suspicious disappearance of his wife. As the plot unspools, twists appear. Many twists, eventually leaving characters as aghast as viewers. Saying more would be a disservice, except to praise both Ben Affleck and especially Rosamund Pike for performances that play off their existing persona (in Affleck’s case) or their lack of it (in Pike’s case). Fincher directs the film with quasi-alien precision, which feels just about right when Gone Girl reveals itself to be an acid commentary on marriage. A genre-aware script by Gillian Flynn (based on her own novel) makes Gone Girl a terrific thriller, but nearly everyone involved in the film bring their best work: In smaller roles, Tyler Perry delivers a memorable turn as a mesmerizing defense lawyer, while Carrie Coon transforms a small confidante role into something far more interesting. Still, it’s director Fincher who remains the star of the show, effectively presenting his set-pieces with a lot of technical polish. Gone Girl may not be a pleasant film, but it’s almost impossible to stop watching from its intriguing opening to its nightmarish conclusion. It’s just not (really not) a date movie.
(On Cable TV, October 2013) Here’s a useful spoiler-filled tip for filmmakers: If you’re making a good movie, you can get away with murdering your protagonist’s pregnant wife midway through. If all you’re making is derivative trash, then stay away from those kinds of stunts, because all you’re doing is pissing off the audience. So it is that Alex Cross, which is a routine cop-versus-psycho thriller up to its halfway mark, goes one plot development too far and murders both a sympathetic bystander and all audience sympathy at one stroke. It’s not putting the hero through personal grief; it’s purely exploitative cheap drama, and it’s easy to recognize as such. Before that plot point, Alex Cross’ numerous problems are easy enough to overlook; after that, the film can do nothing right and becomes steadily more risible as it gets dumber and dumber. Director Rob Cohen’s career as a technically-proficient filmmaker hit an apex of sorts in the early naughties with The Fast and the Furious, xXx and Stealth, but his decline since then has been fierce. Here, occasional good moments of direction come at the expense of a dull film leading to a terrible final fight where even the camera shakes and slow-motion seem to have been added in sheer desperation during post-production. The script is the usual genius-cop-versus-psycho-killer shtick we’re see so many times before, albeit with a psycho-killer-for-hire who seems intent on self-destructive decisions despite supposedly being at the top of his profession. Straining to find something nice to say about the finished film, let’s at least recognize that Matthew Fox is physically remarkable -all sinews and muscles- as the antagonist, while Tyler Perry is occasionally effective as the eponymous lead –if nothing else, he also has a significant physical presence, and he fills out the frames. Still, mentioning the other actors who show up only highlight how disappointing Alex Cross actually is: Edward Burns and Jean Reno quickly show up, but have almost nothing to do –Reno’s presence of the script even quickly highlights an overarching conspiracy plot that is frankly uninteresting to revisit after the antagonist makes the fight so personal. Ah well; Alex Cross (sort-of-adapted from a patchwork of novels by thriller-factory James Patterson) isn’t meant to make sense as much as it’s supposed to re-launch a franchise. In this regard, let’s hope that the dismal results keep all potential sequels at bay –we don’t need another series of pure-formula crime thrillers cluttering the screens.