Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Birthday Take: Rosamund Pike in "Gone Girl" (2014)

Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Rosamund Pike
Born: January 26, 1979 (36 years old)
Nomination: Best Actress - Gone Girl (nominated) as Amy Dunne

The Take

Throughout the echelon on Hollywood history, there have been a fair share of great drama queens. There's of course Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, who turned scenery chewing into high caliber art. There were even those who did it in a trashy manner (such as Faye Dunaway AS Joan Crawford). However, there is something particularly alluring about what happened when David Fincher took on the idea of a crazy woman out for revenge. He didn't so much seek to do something familiar. Instead, he did a domestic drama that saw a loving couple play with the audience, forcing them to take sides in the squabbles of their affairs. It was trashy, but when Fincher does trashy - he at least knows to make it artful in very surprising and effective ways that transcend the lower class of cinema.

What should be noted is that Amy Dunne is possibly one of the best female characters in cinema of the decade. Even if the film is arguably flawed, there's something to Rosamund Pike's performance that grabs you and forces you to first be compelled by her sincerity, but then repelled by her nastiness. You can see plenty of the same magic happening with Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight. It is the unapologetic role that asks audiences to do something that could read as misogynistic and against societal norms. We basically have to hate her for essentially being a con artist out to put her husband in a very unfortunate position. Did he deserve it? The movie makes a strong case both ways in what is likely one of the most bizarre romances in years. Of course, Gillian Flynn's book is far more aggressive, but the character remains the same: a seductive, cheating woman whose smarts could land any man on the FBI's Most Wanted list (if she actually tried).

What is probably the reason that a movie full of rape allegations and murder actually works is because of Flynn's initial construct. The story starts off conventionally, even down to Fincher's least impressive looking credits to date. Everything about the film is unassuming, and it only helps to make the twist that comes around an hour in hold more impact. Was Amy dead? No. However, her exposition as to how she faked it is byfar an impressive anecdote with some clever writing about an insufferable character. In fact, Amy's monologues are often the best part of the film, including the infamous "cool girl" routine, where she recites how she fakes a persona in order to please her man. It's a controversial passage in the book, but the ease of Pike's delivery makes it more salacious on screen.

It is too early to really judge if Pike's career has evolved into a type casting field. However, one could easily see why this would be a good idea. Pike delivers the perfect balance between confidence and insecurity, creating one of the most inventive psychopaths in history. To use an example, it is likely that she will be like Anthony Perkins' tie to Norman Bates. Even if she does manage to find that next great role, we'll all secretly wait for her to give the cool girl speech and wear Neil Patrick Harris' blood like a Sunday evening dress. We'll wait for her to freak out and remind us what was so compelling about what is her breakout role. True, she was in great films before this (The World's End, notably), but I do wonder what her future does hold and if it involves more crazy wives roles.

Gone Girl is one of those films that is tough to really discuss without going into specifics (I'm sorry for ruining the plot here). However, it definitely is a testament to craft that Fincher manages to create a film that is immersive and strange while slowly unveiling information in strange ways. While it can also be read as a commentary on how media exploits tragedy, there's something compelling about Pike's chemistry with Ben Affleck, and Flynn's impressive writing. It's a film that continues to linger as a strange allegory about romance taken to extremes while giving Pike a role to do so much with. I hope she can deliver another great role sometime soon, if just to prove that it wasn't a fluke.

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