Video Verdict: Reviews of ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Love Is Strange’

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) becomes the chief suspect when his wife goes missing in the David Fincher thriller “Gone Girl.”  Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) becomes the chief suspect when his wife goes missing in the David Fincher thriller “Gone Girl.”

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

A pair of R-rated dramas anchor this week’s major home video releases.

Gone Girl

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for a scene of bloody violence, some strong sexual content/nudity, and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD and digital download

Few directors match David Fincher in terms of filmmaking prowess. He is known as a perfectionist, and his work ethic results in exciting films that drip with atmosphere and often take viewers by surprise. From that standpoint, “Gone Girl” is a quintessential Fincher project. Based on the bestselling 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn, the movie focuses on Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), an average guy who is thrown into the spotlight when his semi-famous wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), goes missing. At first, Nick gets a sympathetic reaction from the public and Amy’s parents, but as the case wears on, he becomes the primary suspect.

Flynn adapted her own book to the screen, and the material translates relatively well, as viewers spend much of the movie wondering whether they can – or should – trust Nick. This is possible, in large part, thanks to a spot-on performance by Affleck. Over the years, the actor has taken some heat (most of it unjustified) for his performances, but he has matured with age, and his version of Nick is perfect. Affleck paints his character as charming enough to be likable, but guarded enough to leave doubts.

Pike is even better as Amy, and there’s talk of a best actress Oscar nomination for her performance. She would be deserving of the honor, as this is the best – and flashiest – work of her career.

The movie also features standout roles for Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens. “Gone Girl” is not, however, a simple actors’ showcase. Much of the credit for the film’s success goes to Flynn and to Fincher’s ability to translate her story to the screen.

As modern and exciting as Fincher’s filmmaking is, “Gone Girl” plays out like an old-fashioned thriller. That means the emphasis is on plot, and – aside from a questionable finale – the storytelling is as engaging as it gets. The film is filled with sharp turns, and most work flawlessly. That said, I was troubled by the final twist. But that’s almost a good thing because it is guaranteed to spark conversation, and that’s a hallmark of great art.

The DVD release has no extras, but the Blu-ray features an audio commentary by Fincher.

 

Love Is Strange

3 stars
Rated R for language
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

With “Love Is Strange,” director Ira Sachs offers a compelling romantic tale about two men whose lives come apart shortly after the happiest moment in their lives.

After a four-decade love affair, Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are finally able to wed, and they mark the occasion with a joyful gathering of family and friends. The celebration is short-lived, however, because after the wedding, George is dismissed from his job as a church music teacher. Since Ben is retired, the two men immediately get into financial trouble, and they are forced to sell their comfortable apartment, netting almost nothing.

The only option is for the couple to seek help from friends, but nobody has enough room for both of them. So, Ben moves in with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his family while George stays with two younger pals (Cheyenne Jackson and Manny Perez). Along with living separately, the aging men must adjust to drastically different lifestyles. Ben’s nephew is a workaholic, and his author wife (Marisa Tomei) finds it difficult to write with Ben puttering about her house. In the meantime, George struggles to sleep because the youthful friends who took him in party until the wee hours every night. Despite the struggles, Ben and George find solace in the one thing they’ve always had: each other.

“Love Is Strange” is talky, and it moves slowly, but it is also punctuated by outstanding performances from Lithgow and Molina. These men are phenomenal talents, and they are particularly good when sharing the screen. That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the cast, as every actor is solid.

Although the movie focuses on a same-sex relationship, the issues it broaches are universal. It’s easy to imagine the pain any couple would face if suddenly ripped apart after decades together, and Sachs and his actors do a fine job reflecting on the situation.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a Q&A session from the Los Angeles Film Festival, a making-of feature and an audio commentary with Sachs, Molina and Lithgow.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“A Walk Among the Tombstones”: Liam Neeson stars as a private investigator hired to find out who murdered a crime boss’s wife. Directed by Scott Frank.

“The Identical”: Drama about identical twins (both played by Blake Rayne) who are separated shortly after birth and take different paths through the world. Ray Liotta, Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Joe Pantoliano also star. Directed by Dustin Marcellino.

“The Two Faces of January”: Thriller about a young man (Oscar Isaac) who is tangled in illegal dealings after becoming infatuated by a beautiful woman (Kirsten Dunst) and her wealthy husband (Viggo Mortensen). Co-written and directed by Hossein Amini.

“Tyrant” – The Complete First Season: First 10 episodes of the FX drama about the son of a Middle-Eastern tyrant (Adam Rayner) who is grudgingly drawn into his father’s world. Jennifer Finnigan, Ashraf Barhom and Fares Fares also star.

“Boardwalk Empire” – The Complete Fifth Season: Final eight episodes of the HBO drama about the dealings of a corrupt politician working in Atlantic City during the Prohibition era.

“House of Lies” – The Third Season: This popular Showtime series focuses on the personal and professional life of high-profile management consultant Marty Kaan (Don Cheadle). Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson also star.

“Dallas” – The Complete Third Season: TNT’s revival of the original “Dallas” lasted only three seasons, but fans can revisit the last 15 episodes with this set. In season three, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) has become the eldest member of the powerful Ewing family. Josh Henderson, Jesse Metcalfe, Jordana Brewster, Julie Gonzalo and Ken Kercheval also star.

“The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant”: Criterion Collection restoration of writer-director Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1972 movie about a nasty fashion designer (Margrit Carstensen) who falls in love with an aspiring model (Hanna Schygulla). Presented in German with English subtitles.

“The Scorpion King 4 – Quest for Power”: Yet another direct-to-video addition to “The Scorpion King” franchise. Victor Webster reprises his role as the title character, and he finds himself in a position where he must battle an entire kingdom of soldiers. Rutger Hauer, Lou Ferrigno and Royce Gracie also star.

“The Facts of Life” – The Complete Series: All nine seasons of the 1980s sitcom about an all-girls boarding school in New York. Charlotte Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Kim Fields, Molly Ringwald, Nancy McKeon and Mindy Cohn star.

“NYPD Blue” – Season 8: Twenty episodes of the long-running police drama created by Steven Bochco and David Milch. Dennis Franz, Rick Schroder, Kim Delaney and Gordon Clapp star.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

 

NOTE: Blu-rays, DVDs and screening links are provided to the reviewer at no charge. This enables us to run reviews the day titles become public, but it does not influence the opinions expressed.
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