These two films are more recent than those that usually find their way here. But I was fortunate they were almost immediately available despite their Academy Award considerations. Both are solid. Worthwhile. Gone Girl is brilliantly cynical while almost its opposite, The Judge is life affirming.
In Gone Girl, Ben Affleck plays a rather dull husband, who initially at least, is out of his league with his far more exciting and creative wife, played by Rosamund Pike. The wife goes missing. A forensics team discovers what appears to be a murder scene at the house and the husband begins to look good for the crime. Early in the film I felt like I was watching some true crime drama – “48 Hours maybe” — only with better dialogue and better lighting. The author of the best-selling book itself, Gillian Flynn hands over a great screenplay to a director, David Fincher, who knew how to put it on film. A top supporting cast, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris and my favorites, Carrie Coon as the husband’s sister and Kim Dickens as the top cop help give this first-rate film its smooth play. But beware. It has a nasty, unsettling end. Just when you think you have it, it has you. Who says you have to be happy?
Fine acting also marks The Judge. Though neither Robert Downey Jr. nor Robert Duvall test their respective ranges, playing types they’ve successfully played before, they are nonetheless perfectly cast in this story of a dysfunctional family on the verge of complete disintegration. Duvall has the pivotal role — a harsh judge not only to those who come before him, but of his family, particularly his smart-assed son played by Downey. But the judge is nearly destroyed by the death of his wife, his stage IV cancer, mentally challenged son and, finally, a crime he is accused of committing, but cannot remember. David Dobkin directed this film which rises from the merely predictable to something worthwhile thanks to the ability of all the actors, which also includes Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong, a magnetic Vera Farmiga and a cameo appearance by Billy Bob Thornton who brought tremendous presence to a small but significant role.
In the first film, Rosamund Pike is forced to move to a small town in Missouri, a fate she regards as worse than death. In the second Downey is forced to return to his home, a small town in Indiana, a fate he believes is worse than death. The cure for this unhappiness? Inbibification, of course. For those who wish to imbibe, I recommend tonic and lemon with or without the gin.