Category Archives: Master of Mystery

#Gone Girl – David Fincher

I love you, but I hate you. I miss you, but I am better off without you. I want you out of my life but I can never actually let you go.

No matter how cheesy it sounds when spoken out of context. But if you’ve seen Gone Girl, you would know how David Fincher would interpret this same line in his film.

On the morning of their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) beautiful wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike) disappears from their rented house in North Carthage, Missouri. Nick reports her disappearance to the police and the investigators find something quite unusual in this case. All the evidences point straight towards Nick and when the media learns about it, the protagonist goes through a lot of chaos. Gone Girl is about a husband, finding his loving wife. At least that’s what they want us to know for starters.

Gone Girl is based on the Global Bestseller (same name) by Gillian Flynn. And in a recent article I read, it says it is closely based on the novel. I usually like to watch a film and then read the novel contrary to the usual way of going about it. And I hope the novel is as good as the film.

Spoilers Ahead

When Amy finds out that Nick is cheating on her, she believes that Nick has to pay the ultimate price for it. Amy believes that Nick “murdered” the perfect wife Amy always was and he should get the death penalty for it. So she designs a treasure hunt for him and the police as an anniversary gift, giving clues for the cops to believe that Nick murdered his wife. Nick on the other hand, plans to separate from his wife. He wants her to be gone from his life. That’s Amy’s gift for him. She is gone. But not the way Nick expected her to go. No. That way Nick wins. Amy can’t let Nick win. That’s Gone Girl for you.

In Fincher’s hands, you can expect the things to go wild. You can easily presume some rude awakenings from time to time. And most importantly, he can lead you into believing something till the very end and then squash all of your expectations into pulp and reveal something strange. There is this thing about how David Fincher crafts his stories. I’ve seen most of his films which are considered as classics by many – Se7en, Fight Club, The Social Network to name a few. And now we have Gone Girl. There is something gloomy in all of these films, so meticulously put together that you simply cannot help but enjoy.

What makes the film so interesting? I feel it has something to do with the twisted characters it brings forward. Ben Affleck had a pretty straightforward role to play. But Rosamund Pike’s character shines in the film. She makes you fall in love with her and she scares you too! Just like Nick Dunne, you keep thinking what is on her mind, all the time.

Whenever I watch any film with a missing person who leaves nothing behind but a set of unanswered questions, raises a doubt – whether that person actually existed? Especially when I am watching a film made by the person behind Fight Club. But I feel the success of the film lies in the twisted character of Amy that reveals itself somewhere in the middle. And the story doesn’t really stick with Nick (the protagonist). Sometimes it revolves around Amy, sometimes around Nick telling the audience the story of a couple rather than two individuals. And it does it really well.

The word often used to describe this film is “shocking”. For me I think I always expected Amy to be alive and the mastermind behind all this action. What was truly shocking for me that even after going through all this frenzy, the couple decides to come together and live their life “normally” as if nothing is wrong. That is the fulcrum of the whole film. Whether Amy decides to go back to Nick, or no and whether Nick is ready to accept Amy after what she has put him through, or no. And they take a decision, they resume their lives together, knowing it wouldn’t really be the same but with a clear idea of what the other person wants.

Some critics consider the film to be misogynist. I have to agree that it is about a man and how he perceives a woman. But I have definitely seen films which are more “one-sided” than this one. In fact after watching this film, I appreciate the importance of a conversation in a relationship much more than ever before. And I believe that it takes two bad drivers for an accident.

The person who loves you the most, has the power to destroy you. Marriages are very brittle. And by marrying someone, you pass on that ultimate power to a stranger. In the film, both the strangers destroy one another but in different ways. Gone Girl is about a husband, finding the girl he loved. And he finds his wife. But the love part is still missing. The girl he loved is forever, gone.

#3 Christopher Nolan – Insomnia (2002)

A good cop can’t sleep because he’s missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can’t sleep because his conscience won’t let him.

The story opens as sleep deprived detective Will Dormer (Al Pacino) gets down with his partner Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) in a town best known as “the fishing capital of the world”. These veterans are on an assignment to to assist the local police with their investigation of a 17-year-old Kay Connell’s (Crystal Lowe) murder. At the same time, Dormer is going through an intense investigation by internal affairs. And the verdict may ultimately have a great impact by his partner’s testimony.

(Tiny spoilers ahead)

In an attempt to find the murderer and put an end to the case, Dormer accidentally shoots his partner. Eckhart dies before he could tell anyone who fired the shot. Dormer believes that it would be impossible to convince that it was an accident as the internal affairs wouldn’t ever trust his word. A young local police officer Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank) is put in charge of Eckhart’s shooting.

Dormer tries to put the blame on the murderer but Walter Finch (Robin Williams) outwits him. To return his favour, Finch blackmails him to put the blame of Kay Connell’s murder on her boyfriend. Now it is Dormer’s choice. Finch puts him in such a situation that he has to choose between his career and this one case. And everything else is just too interesting to spoil it over here.

The trailer of the film is one of the most misleading trailers ever. The film is definitely not as typical as the trailer makes it sound. It is one of those rare cases where the film is better than the trailer. Calling the film better won’t be the right term. The film is completely different from what the trailer promises. You can rely on my word for that.

The film is a remake of a Norwegian film of the same name, made in 1998 by Erik Skjoldbjærg. Christopher Nolan belongs to that category of directors who love to write their films. And Insomnia might be the only film in which Nolan has no credit as the writer of the film. And yet, surprisingly enough the film has many elements that signify that it is a Nolan’s masterpiece.

While reading more about the film I just discovered how perfect the casting of the two lead characters is. Dormer is guilty of his crimes and he knows that he deserves to get caught. He is burdened and tired of carrying it all by his own. And all of this shows on his face. On the other side, Finch is confident. He is calculated and he knows that Dormer will eventually give in. Finch’s face is straight and composed.

There are more important characters in the film than the names shown in the credits. The location itself, with daylight for 24 hours without any discount gives an additional reason for Dormer to be an insomniac.

I believe that names are everything. Whether they might be the names of the characters or the title of the film. You hear the names of important characters at least ten to twenty times in the whole film. It tells you a lot about the character and gives a poetic weight to everything that happens. Similarly the title of the film sums up what the film might be all about. And that’s why in my recent film Boundary I waited till the very end to finalise my title.

The film explains to me what a grey character could be. A character trapped in his own actions with a past that haunts him every minute. Guilt and regret fuels his behaviour. It is what the person thought was right at that very moment. In Insomnia it is not just Dormer but also Finch, troubled by their respective pasts. The similarity of the situations is a matter awe. And none of this could be termed as wrong when seen from the character’s perspective. And it is all perspective and opinion in the end.

Insomnia is an American Psychological Thriller and one of my personal favourite films. Not that I can watch the film again and again. It is somewhat heavy as it should be. But I there is a lot that I have taken back from the film.

#1 Alfred Hitchcock – Dial M For Murder

I just wrote about Secret Window where the leading character completely breaks down when he finds out that his wife is cheating on him. On the contrary, Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a calculated man. Wendice decides to take it slow. He takes his time, gathering evidence against his wife Margot (Grace Kelly) and her lover, an American writer, Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Very carefully he chooses the person best fit for the job and everything is absolutely well planned. But there is no such thing as a perfect murder. When things go wrong, he improvises an excellent plan B.

The film was shot in 3D. Yes. It was shot in 3D and it had a limited release in 3D. However Hitchcock wasn’t impressed with the look and ultimately it was released in flat. (2D)

It appears as if this was the most obvious Hitchcock cameo. Or at least one of it.

To be very frank, what separates the film from any other film by the master of suspense is that the film is more talky than any other. There is no mystery in terms of what is happening. We know who the murderer is. And yet there is more to discover. Yet there is a mystery. That may be the reason why it is ranked 9th on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest Mystery films in June 2008.

This fact brings me to the point of view character in the film. A point of view character may not be the protagonist of the film. Remember Citizen Kane? The reporter is the main point of view character discovering the story of Charles Foster Kane through many other sources. But he is not the protagonist. In Dial M For Murder, we stick with the protagonist right from the second scene in the film. And stay with him right till the end. There is just one scene where we know more than the character and that is the time when the mystery is revealed.

The film is adapted from a play. And there is not much that changed in terms of the treatment. Most of the film takes place at one place. That too in one room. It was pretty evident that even the outdoor shots were shot using a chroma. Maybe that is why the film could be finished in 36 days.

I feel the fact that the film takes place at just one location is the best part of the film. At no point, I felt bored of looking at the same frames again and again. And of course the performance by Ray Milland is exceptional. It is one of those films where you genuinely feel the bad guy should get away with all the money with an evil grin on his face. All thanks to this wonderful actor!

#1 Master of Mystery – Secret Window

Just as the titles start rolling, we enter the life of writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) quite secretly through a window in his secluded house across a lake. Going through a rough divorce after he caught his wife cheating on him, Rainey’s daily life is nothing but moments of ennui. Apart from the view of a lake and what used to be a nice garden, there is nothing more left in the rusty life of the bestselling author.

But of course, life becomes much more interesting when John Shooter (John Turturro) knocks on his door accusing Rainey of “stealing his story”. Rainey takes a firm stand on his story being his original work and was published two years before Shooter wrote the story. Shooter accepts the possibility and asks for a copy of the magazine. He even agrees never to bother Rainey again if this is ture. But if Rainey fails to present any such proof, he has to publish the story with a different end the Shooter suggests and give him his due credit for it.

Things look fair and square in the start. But they never are. There are perks in this deal and all of them are paid in blood. By the time Rainey learns the truth behind Shooter and his story, his life is flipped inside out. And also the lives of the ones who got involved.

Trailer here.

Spoilers Ahead

There are very few films adapted from the work of Stephen King that I am not fond of. You sink deeper and deeper in the mystery as the story unfolds and by the time you reach the end you are a character in the film. You are not a third person but you are in the film. The climax in particular of such films is of utmost important. As Rainey says correctly, “The only thing that matters, is the ending. The most important part of the story is the ending. And THIS one, is perfect.”

At times I thought some things were too obvious. The mystery behind the story of John Shooter has its hints everywhere in the film. Some prefer to uncover things as the movie proceeds. Some believe it is better if it strikes you right in the end and makes you wonder, where did it come from? I belong to the second category. In such cases I like to watch the movie again and find out the subtle hidden details that signaled that something weird is coming. In this one, I could unravel the mystery in the second scene with Shooter itself with the mention of Cigarettes. Which brings me to an interesting note on editing. Show something for too long and people know what you are aiming at, keep something too short and people forget that it ever happened. A way to get away with this one is to emphasize your important lines, some shots from some other perspective right in the end as your point of view character uncovers the truth.

There has to be a special mention to the DoP of the film, Fred Murphy. The film never goes into a low key look. Yet it manages to scare you shitless in broad daylight. There are simple shots which convey the depths of the story very eloquently visually.

Johnny Depp is so freakishly convincing that I was pretty much on his side from start to end. I think that is the absolute purpose of a movie of such gravity. Overall, the movie has not received a warm response from everyone. Knowing that it is a Stephen King novel based film, there is a big shadow of expectations that follows. I haven’t read the book. But the adaptation, as a separate entity has given me a lot to learn and a lot to enjoy.