Tag Archives: Mystery

Gone Girl

Gone Girl is one of those movies that grew on me — I started indifferent to Ben Affleck’s presence and to dialogue that sounded too scripted and not organic enough, yet soon enough the film drops into a fairly straightforward engrossing plot that then remarkably shifts gears at the midpoint and becomes…. something else… and yet this turn of events leads to the kind of conclusion that now disturbingly sticks with me even a few hours after the final credits rolled and I suspect will continue to grow over time. (Accordingly, it’s one of those movies that, the less you know going in, the better.)

The film plays with perspective and truth a great deal, although by movie’s end we have a decent understanding of the most important facts of the story. It’s unclear for a while how reliable the different narrators are, and meanwhile there’s an underlying interplay with the US media which is constantly spinning stories and judging people in the court of public entertainment. What is guilt and innocence but the stories we spin based on the facts we find most interesting and that resonate with core feelings within ourselves? The movie highlights how fictions are not merely the product of the spinners but the audience as well, by how they respond to and modify the narratives with their own energy. Everyone is complicit in the convenient twisting and pillaging of the facts, until public opinion and cultural narrative become the only story that matters.

There are some scary channelings going here: Missy Park is like Nancy Grace’s twin sister, both Affleck and the plot borrow strongly from the Scott Peterson debacle over the murder of his wife Laci, and even Carrie Coon reminds me a bit of a less quirky Joan Cusack. Tyler Perry is particularly at ease at spinning a likable amalgam of every high-profile defense attorney we’ve seen in the media, without the whiff of snake oil. (Even more remarkable is his claim in interviews that he would have likely walked away from the movie if he had known who David Fincher was or the popularity of the book, as he brings an effortless good-naturedness to his role that helps anchors the film.) The only unfortunate casting for me was Neil Patrick Harris (Barney, Dr. Horrible), as I kept imagining to be inwardly smirking over his most serious lines, but that’s a minor quibble.

The movie spends some time exploring the question of who Nick Dunne is — a wonderful husband unjustly accused, a narcissistic philanderer who removed an inconvenient spouse, or something else? But it’s the movie’s opening question that grows to dominate the movie: Who was/is this woman named Amy Elliot Dunne AKA Amazing Amy? Gone Girl is ultimately focused on the questions of who we are, what we want, and who we will pretend to be in order to get them.

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Chosen (Season 1)

Could you kill someone to save your own life? How about the life of your children? That’s the first season premise for Chosen, where defense attorney Ian Mitchell finds someone shooting at him when he attempts to retrieve a mysterious box on his front porch. What he finds inside throws his life into a further tailspin.

I’ve been a fan of Milo Ventimiglia ever since he played Peter on “Heroes.” As an actor, he naturally conveys a goodness of heart that makes Ian’s dilemma here even more believable, which is good at those times when small details in the show don’t seem to make as much sense. For example, Milo seems a bit too moral to earn a living defending likely criminals. (I suspect it was a hook by the writer, so that Milo could fall back on some shady ties in his moments of need.) And although Ian’s physical response to the first time he fires a gun at someone is believable from the average person, you’d think a defense attorney would have already hardened up a bit, based on the kinds of cases he’s been dealing with.  Which reminds me — did he mark “run for my life” on his calendar so that he wouldn’t have business meetings scheduled for the two days he’s off getting shot at?

The biggest oversight? Once — just once — I would have liked to hear Ian say, “Why? Why am I being forced to do this? What is the big picture here?” Ian seems a true pragmatist — he takes the situation as-is and tries to run with it, without ever really caring what’s outside the maze.

But these are very minor quibbles. Chosen itself has format down very well. Not only does it come in easily digested chunks (22-minute episodes, in a six-episode season), perfect for the viewer whose mental palette is exhausted by streaming shows with episodes lasting twice as long and seasons lasting even longer, but the answers to mysteries are well-paced. We get only a little bit of an answer here or there, just like Ian, and so it’s easy to understand why he’s frustrated … and yet enough progress is made that the quest doesn’t seem entirely pointless. He’s barely hanging on by his fingertips… but the point is that he’s still hanging on.

Ian’s encounter with his first would-be killer is perfect, in that we get a little bit of information and context as to what is happening… and also a frightening glimpse into what might be in store for Ian himself unless he can either find a way out of his problem or toughen up for the long haul.  “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” says Hemmingway, “but those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” The question here is whether Ian is good enough, gentle enough, or brave enough to end up dying early, or whether he’s not quite as pure as he seems and will bend to the rules of the Game (and thus survive) in order to save his daughter. As another player suggests, morality is one of the first things to go out the window when your family’s life is threatened; and Ian receives the same advice from another unexpected source as he nears the end game.

Ian learns how to practice battlefield medicine with the tools at his disposal, and Milo plays those scenes so perfectly. And when he starts calling in old favors, he’s forced to deal with people who are as scary and merciless as the shadowy figures he is hunting. As it goes, these “players on the other side” aren’t toothless Terra Nova baddies either — it’s very clear that Ian is still alive only because they have permitted it… and if he causes too much trouble, that goodwill might be rescinded.  Even the relationship between Ian and Laura (his ex) shows depth in the awkward way they sometimes discuss their daughter — the gulf that occurs when ex-partners continue to disappoint each other and yet no longer feel it’s worth expressing their frustration. Even divorce hasn’t completely sundered the bond between the two.

The show itself has decent cinematography, and the night shots aren’t a muddle mess like much of The Following’s were. One daytime shot in particular is vibrant, crisp, and framed so perfectly you’d swear it was an Audi commercial. And why is Ian’s ex dating the hospital administrator from “Liar, Liar”?

The season finale goes where it needs to go — no creative solutions, just good old-fashioned blood and sweat, as Ian decides whether he can justify killing another human being. Even the closing sequence, not entirely unpredictable, is certainly gutsy. Ben Katei, the writer, can’t be accused of taking the easy way out; Season #2, if there is one, would be a real test of his mettle to continue the story in a way that isn’t a cop-out. If it happens, I can’t wait to see what he does.

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