David Fincher, who made “Fight Club,” “Se7ven” and “The Social Network,” returns with a slick, well-oiled adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling thriller “Gone Girl” (wide release), in which Ben Affleck plays Nick, a Missouri man whose beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears from their home one morning, instigating a search that attracts national cable-news attention. At first the coverage is sympathetic, but when a Nancy Grace-like cable crime commentator starts covering the case, Nick falls under suspicion of having killed Amy. Incriminating evidence begin to pile up against him — including entries from Amy’s diary, read by Pike in flashback, that suggest the marriage was hardly the blissful one it appeared to be — until Nick is arrested for murder despite the absence of a body. Even Nick’s top-of-the-line defense lawyer has to admit that the case for conviction is strong. Thus far, the movie is a fairly straightforward “did he do it?” affair. But around the halfway point it pulls the rug out from under the viewer to offer an entirely new perspective on Amy’s disappearance. A wealthy man who had been obsessed with her for years enters the picture, as does a pair of grifters who prove quite ready to resort to violence in order to feather their nest. On the other hand, further proof that Nick has been no angel comes to light, and the public attitude toward him, fed by media frenzy, grows increasingly hostile. On one level, “Gone Girl” is a darkly humorous commentary on today’s scandal-obsessed society, with its seemingly insatiable desire for lurid details about people’s private lives. But on another, it is a pulpy, intricately constructed potboiler about revenge taken to an extreme, done up with an arguably misogynistic twist. The mixture doesn’t entirely gel. Nonetheless Affleck and Pike are both excellent, with the former using his slightly sinister smile to good effect and the latter exhibiting enormous range. Though it cannot be said that they manage to make the increasingly absurd plot twists any less improbable, they are good enough to keep the audience fascinated even as the implausibility mounts up. “Gone Girl” is not the equal of Fincher’s best movies; it is less ambitious and more forgettable. But it is an enjoyable puzzle to spend two and a half hours with.
“The Good Lie”
This movie (wide release) tackles an important subject — the difficulty that refugees from developing nations have in coping with the alien environment they find awaiting them when they arrive in the United States. Unfortunately, the treatment opts for uplift over realism. The focus of the film is on three “lost boys” from Sudan who are brought to America after they escaped death in their country’s civil war and spent years in a Kenyan camp. Separated from their sister, who is taken in by a foster family in Boston, they wind up in Kansas City, where a hardworking employment counselor (Reese Witherspoon) not only finds them menial jobs but also befriends them, helping them acclimate to American ways and pursue their dreams of building a life for themselves. The best part of the film is the way in which Witherspoon subordinates herself to the boys’ story. She actually serves as a supporting player here, leaving the spotlight to the refugees, who are played by young Sudanese men who actually escaped their country’s chaos and give soulful performances. But the “fish out of water” scenario too often descends into near-condescending comedy, and the final act of the picture, with its emphasis on the boys’ doing anything (including lying) to bring their family back together, has an inspirational air that feels more forced than genuine. The result is a good movie that might have been much better.
“The Hero of Color City”
Children six and under will probably enjoy “The Hero of Color City” (wide release), an animated movie, obviously inspired by “Toy Story,” about a box of crayons that come alive when the little boy who owns them goes to sleep. The premise is that during the night they return to their own realm, where they are rejuvenated for another day at the old coloring book. Unfortunately, one evening the yellow crayon — who, as her name indicates, is afraid of everything — unwittingly leads a couple of unfinished drawings to Color City, which they threaten to denude of its restorative powers by sucking up all the colors for themselves. Yellow must finally show her courageous side by leading a band of her fellows on an expedition to stop them. The movie is clearly aimed at the very young, who will tolerate the mediocre animation, childish puns and awful songs more readily than parents and older children, who will find it an exercise in Teletubbies-level banality. This is a movie that can serve a babysitting function, but preferably in DVD form at home.