Live By Night

<em>Live By Night</em>

Cohesiveness is an aspect of movies that holds great importance but isn’t readily noticed. Movies are assembled by scenes, of course, leading to a sort of storytelling puzzle: making sure all of these varied scenes appear in an order best suited to reveal the message of the story being told. However, movie makers are far too quick to dispose or diminish this fine interlocking mesh of events and dialogue in favor of a particular aspect of the movie, maybe the scenery, or the action. In the end, though, audiences notice this, maybe not immediately, but as a jarring disaffection to the story being told. Ben Affleck’s Live By Night takes this potentially minor incongruence and blows it up the be a major fault, highlighting so many mood and scenery changes and pushing to the forefront so much action that the entire movie becomes a mess, beginning on the joyful note of a crime-comedy such as Goodfellas and ending with a melodramatic moan as something akin to the end of a Dawson’s Creek episode.

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Review: Gone Girl

GoneGirl From the very beginning David Fincher’s latest film provokes the viewer to ponder and constantly guess what comes next. Based on the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a mystery thriller with all the right components to make it one of Fincher’s best to date. A dark and stylish film with plenty of twists and turns that never seem to slow down until the credits roll. Gone Girl tells the tale of a Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Elliott-Dunne (Rosamund Pike). A troubled married couple whose lives are recapped in flashbacks as a way to established how this stylish duo made it to small town America. Nick, the co-owner of a bar wakes to take in the quiet moments of the early morning before beginning his day. In one of the most telling scenes of the film, we get a nice calm before the storm. Once Nick, and the audience, take a nice deep breath they are thrown into the day that changes Nick’s life forever. While checking in on his bar with his co-owner sister, Margo (Carrie Coon), Nick receives a call from his neighbor telling him that his front door is open. He heads home to find his wife, Amy, missing. The police are called and detectives Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) arrive on the scene. The two calmly assess the situation and notice the first bit of oddities around the Dunne household; cracks begin to form.

Inevitably, people start to turn their eye to Nick as the possible culprit to Amy's disappearance. Nick swings back and forth with outbursts and choices that both support and thwart the assumptions of skeptics. Did he do it? Is he innocent? The town, the media, even Nick's closest allies don't know. More importantly, you as the audience doesn't either. Keeping everyone in the dark is the movie's greatest asset. The back and forth is what truly makes this a memorable film.

There is a delicate dance that happens in this movie that is designed to set one’s teeth on edge. Just when you think you have the definitive answers, motivations, and next steps mapped out things shift violently. You may get frustrated with characters and their behavior, you might sigh in relief at revelations, but you will be riveted to the screen. Part of what keeps you glued is the look of the film, dream-like and constantly fluid. Director David Fincher is known for his low light shooting style and it works so well here. Giving the feeling of misunderstanding and setting the tone for a dull Midwestern town, Fincher’s camera style seems absolutely superb. While cinematography choice is a part of what makes this feel genuine in a sea of films largely CGI-ed, the acting is what brings it home. Stellar casting choices of Affleck and Pike sold me immediately. The two play the perfect balance of a couple on the edge of a phoenix-like resurrection or a complete implosion of their marriage. This tap dance on the edge just reinforces the tremendous ‘what’s going to happen’ mentality that is overwhelming in this film. Carrie Coon who plays Nick’s sister works wonderfully as a moral barometer and voice for the audience in many ways. Kim Dickens and Patrick Fugit are reminiscent of characters in Fargo; not so simple-minded simple folks. A few surprising and great performances by Neil Patrick-Harris and even Tyler Perry. I don’t want to give away anything in this film, because the best thing you can do is see it as blind as possible. A truly masterful work from David Fincher and everyone involved. An absolute must see!

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Review: Argo

The Iranian Revolution is a highly controversial topic with many levels of nuance and international gamesmanship that have been debated back and forth for years. This tricky subject is at the heart of Ben Affleck’s latest film, Argo. Coming off the success of his 2010 bank heist actioner, The Town, Affleck tackles a topic far removed from the safety of his Boston roots. The nature of the story makes it easy for the director to heavily lean on elements of action and suspense. This crutch would potentially drown the characters and make it a throwaway at best. Affleck chooses, wisely, a different route and it bears fruit in the end.

Using the tactic of movie storyboards, we are given the overall view of the events that start the Iranian Revolution. While brief, the information is accurate and brings the unknowing audience up to speed within minutes. No one is dumped into the chaos without a proper introduction. The immediate scene after drops the audience into the middle of the revolution as the U.S. embassy is being besieged by angry revolutionaries. In the chaos we quickly meet the 6 foreign service workers and we get to overhear their decision to leave the embassy. The scene is well shot with back and forth moments between the revolutionaries and the embassy inhabitants. This is the first scene that Affleck plays with tension in a subtle but meaningful way; it won’t be his last. Once out of the embassy the six Americans escape to the house of the Canadian ambassador, and live in secret there for 60 days. Back in the U.S. the Central Intelligence Agency has been working diligently to launch a successful rescue operation. There is a fantastic scene in which we get to hear what absolutely ludicrous ideas the C.I.A. has come up with to get these people to safety. Its amusing and scary simultaneously as you realize any one of these could have been used. Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) calls in a his technical operations expert Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) to help come up with an idea on the rescue. After some inspiration from his young son, Mendez comes up with an off the wall idea. Proposing the idea of a fake movie to use as a backdrop to get the 6 Americans out was not only brilliant but insane.

After getting the approval, Mendez is off to Hollywood to pretend to be a big shot. With the assistance of Lester Seigel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman) the fake persona and film gets underway. The interaction between the three was a nice comedic relief from the harshness of the revolution scenes. We are treated to scenes of three working to make this fake movie a fake hit. Once the audience gets comfortable with hanging around in Hollywood they are thrust back into the lion’s den of the Iranian Revolution. When Mendez arrives the plan is explained to the 6 Americans and we are presented with moments of pure tension all the way to the end of their ordeal. The actors who portray the 6 hostages give such nuanced performances that you really don’t lose track of who they are. This is not an easy task in a film like this. Everyone has a part to play and all parts are important. Much like the real life situation must have called for, everyone works as a team here. Affleck, while clearly the main character, is constantly being buoyed by the fantastic supporting actors around him. His steely reserve is made genuine by the unabashed cowardice of others around him.

The entire final sequence is a textbook example of how you build and sustain tension in a film. Affleck plays it with expert timing and style. There were so many moments of outright cringing when certain dialogue or actions were taken. Even though I knew the ending going into the film you still hang on the edge of your seat. This was easily one of the best films of the year and everyone involved deserves credit. The acting, as I said before, is all about teamwork. No one character stood alone, nor did any falter. Affleck commanded fantastic performances from Cranston in the C.I.A. to Goodman in Hollywood. When there was turmoil you felt it in the performances. When there was success you cheered along. This is what great film making looks like. Many have said that Affleck’s directing might be a flash in the pan, I think Argo proves that not only can the man direct, but he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Run, don’t walk , to see Argo in theaters.

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